In Defense of Worship:
Discussion and Devotional Thought of the Day:
18 And do not get drunk on wine, in which lies debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another (in) psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and playing to the Lord in your hearts, 20 giving thanks always and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father. Ephesians 5:18-20 (NAB)
16 Christ’s message in all its richness must live in your hearts. Teach and instruct one another with all wisdom. Sing psalms, hymns, and sacred songs; sing to God with thanksgiving in your hearts. 17 Everything you do or say, then, should be done in the name of the Lord Jesus, as you give thanks through him to God the Father. Colossians 3:16-17 (TEV)
3 After all, the chief purpose of all ceremonies is to teach the people what they need to know about Christ. (1)
16 Ultimately, if we should list as sacraments all the things that have God’s command and a promise added to them, then why not prayer, which can most truly be called a sacrament? It has both the command of God and many promises. If it were placed among the sacraments and thus given, so to speak, a more exalted position, this would move men to pray. (1)
Recently, there has been an attack on worship, articles that have challenged it having a prominent role. Some have demeaned it, and denigrated the role of those entrusted to lead and facilitate our praise of God.
Some of the criticisms need to be heard, there are times worship leaders of all styles act like entertainers, deserving to be heard. But I believe most of the criticisms are based in a irrational fear of the emotions we have, which need to be admitted before God. More on that after some basic thoughts
There is a real need for worship, an the role of a worship leader/cantor/praise team/choir and the church (while worshipping and praising God) is at its very core, as much of a means of grace and as sacramental as a sermon, as the readings. Here is why I say that;
There are two “kinds” of lyrics, though in some songs you might have both.
1. Horizontal Lyrics teach
Here the role of the music is to teach, encourage, catechize and reveal the glory and grace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. The very same goal as a sermon, as the people hearing and singing the words realize their absolute need for Jesus Christ, and they share with each other their sorrows, and their joy when Christ is revealed to them.
This is the word of God, being proclaimed in words accompanied by music, but it is the word of God. Look at how it fits into the passage in Colossians, it is part of the teaching and instruction, the mutual building up of the people of God. Melancthon does exclude worship in his words in the Augsburg Confession – the role of the worship service is to gie to people, to teach them, what they know of Christ.
2. Vertical Lyrics Pray…
Worship that is vertical, that is directed to God is either prayer or praise, “Lord, come do what you promised”, “Lord you have rescued me!”, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.”. This is second commandment work, the proper use of the Name of God, which He has given to us to talk to Him, to sing to Him. Again, the Lutheran Confession talk of such prayer as a sacrament, as being sacramental, even if only because of that we pray more! We need to seek God more, we need to be found like Isaiah, and the 70 elders, we desperately need to experience the fact that we live in the presence of God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
That is a scary thought, for to be in the presence of God means that all of our fears, all of our anxieties, all of our emotions, are laid bare. They are known. We can’t hide our hearts or our souls from God. We can’t hide our jealousies, our lusts, our anger, our desire to be in control. Music, singing these biblical lyrics, have a way of doing that, of sneaking in through our (arts/emotion) right brain, while distracting us by occupying our left brain (knowledge, logic) and ministering to our complete brokenness.
We don’t like that, it scares us. And any kind of worship can do this, from 4 or 5 guys singing the doxology on a retreat, to a choir putting voice to O Sacred Head, or A Mighty Fortress, to a praise team simply singing Amazing Grace- My Chains are Gone, or a classical guitarist plucking out the Lord’s Prayer. The music opens our souls, letting out that which poisons them, as the Love of God inherent in the words of scripture rush in and cleanse us.
The music moves us…. and sometimes that is scary, but it is a incredible blessing as well.
This is why as we prepare for worship, it needs to be done in prayer, meditating on the word. This is why the instrumentalists and singers need to practice so well, that they can lose themselves in the worship, even as they lead others in it. Any style can be done poorly, to loud, to erratic, to performance driven. When leading the prayers and praises of God’s people is done poorly, it robs them of their voice, it robs them as well of that which can facilitate their prayers, focus their praises, distract them from being in the presence of God…..
But worship leading, done right? It is as beneficial as a well crafted and delivered sermon. For it is the gospel proclaimed, and because it is prayer, it is sacramental.
And to quote our confessions, if we realize it is such, maybe we will engage in it all the more!
(And remember to pray for those who serve you, the people of God, in this ministry, just as you pray for your pastors)
Kyrie Eleison (Lord Have Mercy!)
Alleluia (Praise God!)
(1) Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 56). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press. AC XXIV
(1) Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 213). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press. AAC XIII
The Only Safe Place in Life.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
16 Jerusalem, I can never forget you! I have written your name on the palms of my hands. Isaiah 49:16 (TEV)
5 Lord, we are glad to find ourselves in your wounded palm. Grasp us tight, squeeze us hard, make us lose all our earthly wretchedness, purify us, set us on fire, make us feel drenched in your Blood. And then, cast us far, far away, hungry for the harvest, to sow the seed more fruitfully each day, for Love of you. (1)
I live in a land of earthquakes. I have friends that live in Tornado alleys, others who live in the normal paths of hurricanes, Where I grew up, snow storms could strand you for a week. Where my first church was located, you could dehydrate so fast that you could die before you knew it. There are places where there are wars, cities where drugs and gang violence is rampant.
I have come to this conclusion, if you are searching for a safe place to live, there is no such geographical location on the earth. As long as we are alive, there will be some threat living over us.
Some of us even have those threats inside us, for me, it was a genetic issue that affected my heart. For others, it may a tendency to addiction.
There can even be problems and threats inside places that should be safe, churches, schools, hospitals.
Is there a safe place?
Where do we go for safety, for refuge, for sanctuary?
Is there a place where we can know peace?
There is a place, rather, there is a person, and the relationship we have with Him, that is our sanctuary, that is our place of refuge, He is our peace.
Even in the worse cases. Consider in the book of Daniel, the three men in the furnace:
16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered, “Your Majesty, we will not try to defend ourselves. 17 If the God whom we serve is able to save us from the blazing furnace and from your power, then he will. 18 But even if he doesn’t, Your Majesty may be sure that we will not worship your god, and we will not bow down to the gold statue that you have set up.” 19 Then Nebuchadnezzar lost his temper, and his face turned red with anger at Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. So he ordered the furnace to be heated seven times hotter than usual. 20 And he commanded the strongest men in his army to tie the three men up and throw them into the blazing furnace. 21 So they tied them up, fully dressed—shirts, robes, caps, and all—and threw them into the blazing furnace. 22 Now because the king had given strict orders for the furnace to be made extremely hot, the flames burned up the guards who took the men to the furnace. 23 Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, still tied up, fell into the heart of the blazing fire. 24 Suddenly Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement. He asked his officials, “Didn’t we tie up three men and throw them into the blazing furnace?” They answered, “Yes, we did, Your Majesty.” 25 “Then why do I see four men walking around in the fire?” he asked. “They are not tied up, and they show no sign of being hurt—and the fourth one looks like an angel.” Daniel 3:16-25 (TEV)
Jesus was there, and in the midst of the the moment, they knew His peace. They found their refuge.
Daniel Himself knew such opposition,
20 When he got there, he called out anxiously, “Daniel, servant of the living God! Was the God you serve so loyally able to save you from the lions?” 21 Daniel answered, “May Your Majesty live forever! 22 God sent his angel to shut the mouths of the lions so that they would not hurt me. He did this because he knew that I was innocent and because I have not wronged you, Your Majesty.” 23 The king was overjoyed and gave orders for Daniel to be pulled up out of the pit. So they pulled him up and saw that he had not been hurt at all, for he trusted God. Daniel 6:19-23 (TEV)
A final example, this time Stephen in the New Testament, who was killed, and tortured, and yet…. knew peace, and was in a very special refuge.
54 As the members of the Council listened to Stephen, they became furious and ground their teeth at him in anger. 55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw God’s glory and Jesus standing at the right side of God. 56 “Look!” he said. “I see heaven opened and the Son of Man standing at the right side of God!” 57 With a loud cry the Council members covered their ears with their hands. Then they all rushed at him at once, 58 threw him out of the city, and stoned him. The witnesses left their cloaks in the care of a young man named Saul. 59 They kept on stoning Stephen as he called out to the Lord, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” 60 He knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord! Do not remember this sin against them!” He said this and died. Acts 7:54-60 (TEV)
Even there, in this midst of death itself, in the moments when all hell is trying to break loose, in what many would never be able to comprehend the existence of peace, there it is.
For the Lord was with the three men! He was with Daniel, He was with Stephen!
And the Lord is with you.
No matter the trauma, no matter the disaster, no matter the threat. No matter what, we are covered by His blood, sent by Him into these places, to be a beacon of hope, a reminder of God’s love and mercy and peace. For you need to know and count on this.
The Lord is with you!
and that is why Paul writes to us
6 Don’t worry about anything, but in all your prayers ask God for what you need, always asking him with a thankful heart. 7 And God’s peace, which is far beyond human understanding, will keep your hearts and minds safe in union with Christ Jesus! Philippians 4:6-7 (TEV)
Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 249-252). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
The Dirty Dozen, Discipleship, Worship & the Family of God
Devotional and Discussion Thought of the Day:
1 So then, my friends, because of God’s great mercy to us I appeal to you: Offer yourselves as a living sacrifice to God, dedicated to his service and pleasing to him. This is the true worship that you should offer. 2 Do not conform yourselves to the standards of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind. Then you will be able to know the will of God—what is good and is pleasing to him and is perfect. 3 And because of God’s gracious gift to me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you should. Instead, be modest in your thinking, and judge yourself according to the amount of faith that God has given you. 4 We have many parts in the one body, and all these parts have different functions. 5 In the same way, though we are many, we are one body in union with Christ, and we are all joined to each other as different parts of one body. 6 So we are to use our different gifts in accordance with the grace that God has given us. If our gift is to speak God’s message, we should do it according to the faith that we have; 7 if it is to serve, we should serve; if it is to teach, we should teach; 8 if it is to encourage others, we should do so. Whoever shares with others should do it generously; whoever has authority should work hard; whoever shows kindness to others should do it cheerfully. 9 Love must be completely sincere. Hate what is evil, hold on to what is good. 10 Love one another warmly as Christians, and be eager to show respect for one another. Romans 12:1-10 (TEV)
729 Men—this has always happened in history—bind their lives together to accomplish a collective mission and destiny. Is the unique destiny of eternal happiness worth less to the men and women of today? (1)
An odd juxtaposition occurred in the last 12 hours or so, and it all came together in the words of St. Josemaria I read this morning.
The first is one of the books I picked up on my Kindle – the old World War II novel entitled, “The Dirty Dozen” A movie was based on it, twelve soldiers sentenced to death or life in prison were given a chance to live honorably, in service to their country. Their leader is tasked with molding them into a unit, despite their differences in culture, in life, and their tendency to violence. It has some fascinating looks at why men choose evil, or passively accept it.
The second was a question asked by one the seminary students I supervise, part of an assignment, about the connection between worship and witness. Given the course, I think they were thinking in the narrow sense of both words, how a church service leads us to evangelism. I prefer to look at it in the large sense, lives given as described above, worship as our reasonable, sacrificial, lives, where each does what they do as they trust in God. This kind of worship is a living witness – far more powerful than any words we can speak. This is what worship is, this is what the sacraments prepare us for, knowing our mission is eternal, knowing that the outcome is more than us. Seeing how Christ’s mercy makes it all possible, for us to live as sacrifices, as we live and serve and love, and respect each other, as our trust in God grows.
In the Book and the movie, The Dirty Doze, such a camaraderie eventually develops. They will get their mission, they will mourn their losses, the will accomplish their mission But it is the training and serving each other that will make the biggest difference. Not the orders given, not the memories of their past. They will enter into a relationship deeper than they will want to admit to, more than they can even perceive.
We are the same, we have a mission, but that mission isn’t just what binds us together, It isn’t the hope of being known to be honorable, or being heroes. The gifts we use, the love and respect we share, that isn’t the intention either. For if it is that, we will leave people behind, we won’t see them as necessary to the mission, or that they can be redeemed full,
It is the camaraderie, that a bunch of us who could have been given up on, are being forged into His people, those He has called together, bound together in Christ, whom we share the body and blood of Jesus with together. We will go through death together, knowing that He has led us through it.
On a mission from God….. sacrficing and serving, because of His mercy!
Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 3042-3045). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
The One Who Would Die, that Others Will Live
What Child is this?
The One Who Would Die,
That Others Might Live…
John 11:17-27, 38-53
In Jesus Name
May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be well known by you, bringing you great peace and joy as you know the depth of His love.
There are Sundays were the sermon develops simply, where there is only one point to the reading, only one lesson to learn about the depth of God’s love. Here, in this reading, there are a number of sermons that could be given.
One about God’s love, as we see in revealed in Jesus’ interaction with Martha,
Or God’s love, that would weep over the depth of a friend, and then raise him back to life.
Or one of my favorites, as we look at Caiaphas, the high priest, who like a hostile witness in court, still proclaims the truth…about the depth of God’s love – and doesn’t even know it.
As I prepared for this day, with the children singing, the words at the end of the reading kept coming to the front of my mind,
“he did not say this on his own, as the high priest at that time, he was led to prophesy that Jesus would die for that entire nation, Not only for that nation, but to bring together and unite all the children of God, scattered around the world….”
We see God’s heart, at the depth of that plan, to bring together and unite al the children of God, scattered around the world.
One of the things we talk about here, is that church is often a foretaste of the glory of heaven. Not the building, but the people, the mercy, the love….as we sing together, as we heard God’s words, revealing His love, we place before God our burdens, as we share in the Lord’s Supper, this is all a little taste of heaven.
It just seems right then, that the voices of children we hear sing are from many cultures, from all over the world, the children whom Jesus came to make His own, just as He came to make us His own… people from all over this globe, just as heaven will be people from every nation, of every language, of every ethnicity. Today’s sermon is about how He planned and did this very thing!
These passages during this church season, what we call lent, help us get ready for Easter. They help us become more and more aware of God’s plan from the very beginning, was to be with us, to bring light and love into our world, which often lacks it.
Such as this prophesy of Caiaphas, which would point to the long awaited glory of Israel being revealed, and the hope of all peoples. The High-Priest, the head of all things religious, who studied the scriptures, said words that were so accurate, that He didn’t see it.
He said, “’You don’t know what you’re talking about! 50 You don’t realize that it’s better for you that one man should die for the people than for the whole nation to be destroyed.’” John 11:49-50 (NLT)
It was just to be just Caiaphas had prophesied. But he was by no means the first. Some 700 years before Caiaphas said those words, another prophet by the name of Isaiah put it together, a little more carefully:
10 But it was the LORD’s good plan to crush him and cause him grief. Yet when his life is made an offering for sin, he will have many descendants. He will enjoy a long life, and the LORD’s good plan will prosper in his hands. 11 When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish, he will be satisfied. And because of his experience, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins. Isaiah 53:10-11 (NLT)
It is the same thought – but where as Caiaphas thought the death of Jesus would save a problem with the Romans, it would do so much more, saving people from our rebellion against God, our sin.
When during our time of confession and absolution earlier, I mentioned that God daily and richly forgives our sins and grants us new life, those are not just mere words. They are what we believe, what we count upon each day.
But we realize as well, and take great joy in the knowledge that this has been God’s plan from the beginning, that Jesus, the one, would die that all the children of God would never fear the power of sin, that is, that death would somehow be the end.
Isaiah talks of this in words that are interesting – that because the righteous servant, by experiencing death, would make it possible for many to be counted right. Simply because Jesus bears our sin, the grief, the guilt, the pain, the shame, and yes, the penalty for what we’ve done wrong.
Because of that action, he does save us, God’s people, all who trust in Him, from every corner of this planet, from every people group, from Asia, from the Middle East, from South America, and Europe, and even LA and the OC.
That’s been His plan, from before the foundations of the world, a plan we see, even as we look at the children’s smiles, as we heard their voices praising God this morning
There is a last lesson here. That I need to make absolutely clear to each and everyone of us. Some because we think we’ve gone too far from God. That might be worried about someone they think is gone to far from God…or in either case, lost hope for God to be able to work in their lives.
Hear Jesus prayer, to the Father…
40 Jesus responded, “Didn’t I tell you that you would see God’s glory if you believe?” 41 So they rolled the stone aside. Then Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, thank you for hearing me. 42 You always hear me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here, so that they will believe you sent me.” John 11:40-42 (NLT)
That of course, is the challenge, this idea of trusting God. Martha couldn’t even begin to conceive of what Jesus was telling her, that in a mere moment, with a cry, her brother would be returned to her and Mary.
In the same way, when we talk about eternity, about the finality of death, it is hard to see beyond the tomb. Yet God is here, just as He was there. Martha trusted in Jesus for the harder miracle, the resurrection from the dead, for all eternity.
It is why Jesus came, why he was born of Mary, and laid in a manger.
So that people would hear God’s love..
The same Child, was the one who would be nailed to the cross….
And rise from the dead, and ascend to heaven…..
So that we would know the Father sent Jesus… and sent Him that we would know the incredible depth of God’s love…..
for us, for those we love…. For those still, no matter what language they speak, no matter where they were born, no matter their culture.
For in Christ’s death, we find ourselves alive, in a relationship with God… rejoicing in His mercy, and given His peace.
A peace that is beyond all understanding, guarding our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
On Surviving Mondays…
Devotional Thought of the Day:
“By yourself, if you don’t count on grace, you can do nothing worthwhile, for you would be cutting the link which connects you with God. With grace, on the other hand, you can do all things” (1)
Peter, James and John were on a short side trip with Jesus when the man came, looking for help. Desperate he was, to find some comfort, some rest, some refuge for his tormented son.
The apostles tried, but to no avail, what they had done before wasn’t working, for some reason they couldn’t help, they couldn’t find the power, the “dunamis” to cast out those oppressive spirits.
Mondays can be like that, as we come back to “reality”, to the grind of another week. Maybe the weekend was not a restful one, maybe it wasn’t what we expected, or maybe it was too much – and we need to recover from it! Either way, back on the job on Mondays is always difficult, even oppressive. I wouldn’t go so far as saying demonic… (well there have been some Mondays… )
But where do we find the strength for them. In the same place that Jesus instructed his men to find their strength.
“his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” 29 And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”
Mark 9:28-29 (ESV)
We were reminded on Sunday about this rtuth – that we must depend on Jesus, that we must entrust ourselves into God’s hands, to recognize that the Holy Spirit dwells in us. Yet on Mondays, so often we forget this, so often we fail to remember this. We let the situations get the best of us, we look at everything with a darkened, pessimistic view, we approach life, if not paranoid, then at least a little hesitant – wondering which trauma, which challenge, which confrontation will next pop up to bash us like a storm.
Yesterday in Sunday School I used a long quote from another pastor. Not my usual thing – but this one – despite it’s somewhat archaic language rings so true. Even though it will extend this devotion out – it is good for us to read:
” ( God’s ) Covenant blessings are not meant to be looked at only, but to be appropriated. Even our Lord Jesus is given to us for our present use. Believer, thou dost not make use of Christ as thou oughtest to do. When thou art in trouble, why dost thou not tell him all thy grief? Has he not a sympathizing heart, and can he not comfort and relieve thee? No, thou art going about to all thy friends, save thy best Friend, and telling thy tale everywhere except into the bosom of thy Lord. Art thou burdened with this day’s sins? Here is a fountain filled with blood: use it, saint, use it. Has a sense of guilt returned upon thee? The pardoning grace of Jesus may be proved again and again. Come to him at once for cleansing. Dost thou deplore thy weakness? He is thy strength: why not lean upon him? Dost thou feel naked? Come hither, soul; put on the robe of Jesus’ righteousness. Stand not looking at it, but wear it. Strip off thine own righteousness, and thine own fears too: put on the fair white linen, for it was meant to wear. Dost thou feel thyself sick? Pull the night-bell of prayer, and call up the Beloved Physician! He will give the cordial that will revive thee. Thou art poor, but then thou hast “a kinsman, a mighty man of wealth.” What! wilt thou not go to him, and ask him to give thee of his abundance, when he has given thee this promise, that thou shalt be joint heir with him, and has made over all that he is and all that he has to be thine? There is nothing Christ dislikes more than for his people to make a show-thing of him, and not to use him. He loves to be employed by us. The more burdens we put on his shoulders, the more precious will he be to us. “(2)
In closing consider this – you look at Catholic Saints like St Josemarie Escriva, you look at protestant preachers like Spurgeon, or hymn writers like Wimber or Newton or Wesley and Luther – the one common thread they have – is that we have to trust – we have to depend on God’s presence in our life. Not just to get into heaven, but to enjoy the life eternal that starts when God makes us his…
Cry out Lord have mercy my friends, and know He has, He is, and He will…
(1) Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 1282-1285). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
(2) Spurgeon, C. H. (2006). Morning and evening: Daily readings (Complete and unabridged; New modern edition.). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers.
An Incredible Prayer, Disguised as a Camp Song
Devotion of the Day
My first reaction was to wonder when he learned the song that was being sung with the enthusiasm that can only be generated within the heart of a five year old.
KUMMM BY YAAAAAA my Lord… KKKKKKKKKumn by YAAAAAAA
My immediate reaction was to think ill thoughts of whoever taught him that camp song! And I thought of all who mocked the song, at first agreeing with them in my mind. Especially as I heard my five year old – feeling much better after two days of being sick, sing it with all of his might. (and if you know him…. well – you can picture this.)
I eventually thought back to my youth, to when the song was actually popular and not mocked, and I remembered the translation of the song. Someone’s singing/crying/working/praying LORD BE WITH US. ( or literally Come by hear!)
As I thought of these words, it became apparent to me, this simple song, once written by a simple people who knew desperation, who knew anxiety, who knew pain, is truly a very deep hymn – one of great comfort and deep spiritual truth. For no matter the vocation, no matter the action, it is always appropriate to cling to the One who is here – to cry out to Him, asking Him to reveal Himself – for He is always here… always ready to respond always ready to care and bring mercy and peace.
Kumbaya –is simply another way of praying the Kyrie – another way of reaching out and realizing we were not alone..for He is with us.
May we cry out both, in sincerity and in recognition of our need, and may we know we have been heard….