I’m starting a new series called “Worship&…”  I’m starting this series to show how the whole bible is a story about worship.  It’s true!  Like a lot of stories, its starts with a beginning where everything is good, but then the wheels fall off and there is a crisis.

The rest of the story is how the characters of the story are rescued in the most surprising way and how they live faithfully ever after.

I want to tell this story because I’m not sure if we get it.  I’m not sure we get worship.  When we say that word, we might think of a church service with announcements, prayer, preaching, giving offerings, baptisms, Holy Communion and, of course, music.  The problem is that we see those things as a list of things we do.  We might not know why we do them, but we know we should!  And that, my friends, is the definition of “religion”.  Religion is a list of things we do to be right with God.  As soon as we start down that road, it’s easy to wonder if what we are doing is enough?  Are we still ok with God?  Do we need to work harder?

The problem is that it’s easy to make worship about ourselves.  But the wonderful thing is that we aren’t the hero of the story.  God is the hero.  He is the center of the story and of all worship.  He is the creator of worship and the one who places worship in our hearts.  Yes.  The story of worship is really the story of God.  Author, Mike Cosper, writes,

“The gospel story is the worship story.  Worship was God’s idea as he initiated creation.”*

So next week, we are going to start before the beginning.  We are going back before Eden to the time before time.

We are going back to God himself…


*Quote from “Rhythms of Grace” by Mike Cosper.

**If you are looking for further reading, I would recommend “Rhythms of Grace” by Cosper, “The Drama and Scripture” by Bartholomew & Goheen and “Engaging with God” by David Peterson.


New Song: Your Name is Matchless

It had been months and months and still…we didn’t have date on the calendar.  The date we needed was the date to finalize my son’s adoption in court.  All the papers had been signed, but the finalization was like the seal.  That’s when his name would legally changed to “Ward”.  That is when we could apply for his birth certificate with his new name.  That is when we could get his social security number.

It was a big deal.

But now we have a date!  After months and months of waiting, we are going to stand in court on National Adoption Day, November 16th, and have a judge declare that this little boy is truly our son.  I don’t need a judge to tell me that, but we still need the judge to make it legal.

We are also learning a new song this weekend that teaches we are saved into God’s family in a similar way.  We aren’t born into it.  In fact, we were enemies of God.  We were lost and dead in our sin.  But God, sent his Son to change our lives forever.  We are now adopted sons and daughters of God.  So let’s jump in…scripture says it this way:

Jesus said…”the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” – Luke 19:9-10

You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked…

(I remember my affliction and my wandering. -Lamentations 3:19)

…But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ. -Ephesians 2:1-2

And we sing it this way…

We were sinners, we were orphans

We were looking for a home
We were lost and we were broken
Wandering alone
Looking down at our condition
You sent Your Son to change our fate
Though we were hopelessly imprisoned
He came to take our place

In the chorus, we sing glory to the one who ransomed us, saved us and set us free.  His name is “matchless” which means he has no equal!

Christ…has died as a ransom to set them free… -Ephesians 9:15

…to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, –Jude 1:25

Glory to the name of Jesus

Glory to the only name that saves
Ransomed the captives
Your name is matchless

After the first verse talks about our wandering in sin away from home and how Jesus saved us.  The second verse talks about how we are now adopted children of God.  I think of this when I look at my adopted kids.  I remember how much I love them.  I remember that I am a loved and adopted child of God.  And John says that is what we are!

“You are not your own; you were bought at a price.” -1 Corinthians 6:20a

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! -1 John 3:1

…the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.   And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” -Romans 8:15b

What a mystery to fathom

That we’re Your children set apart
For we were enemies, not pilgrims
Prodigals at heart
But Your Spirit now has caused us
To no longer doubt Your love
Abba, Father, You have bought us
Adopted through Your Son

The heart of the song comes in the 2nd chorus which continues the same theme as the first, but quotes from Isaiah.  I think it’s important to remember that Jesus quoted this same passage and said that he was its fulfillment.

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me…
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners…

…to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes. -Isaiah 61:1, 3b

Glory to the name of Jesus

Glory to the only name that saves
Ransomed the captives
Your name is matchless
Glory to the name that freed us
Glory to the love that made a way
Beauty for ashes; Your name is matchless

Lastly, we look towards the end of our lives and the glory of heaven that awaits the adopted sons and daughters of God.

…Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ. -Romans 8:17a

“Where, O death, is your victory?
    Where, O death, is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. -1 Corinthians 15:55-57

Ponder all we have been given:

Heirs to God through Jesus’ name
A stingless death has been made certain
And glory now awaits
Your glory now awaits

Praising God While Cleaning Up Vomit

“I threw up in the bathroom and I almost made it.”

Those words strike fear and disgust into the heart of any parent.  And while my daughter tried to make it, she hit the toilet seat instead of the bowl.  That meant that Dad was on his hands and knees cleaning the chicken noodle soup off the wall that she had eaten an hour before.  It’s in those moments that it’s easy to pray, “Come quickly, Lord Jesus”, but I’m trying to train myself to praise God in those moments.  God is always worthy of our praise whether we feel like praising Him or not.

So what can you praise God for when you are on your knees, cleaning up vomit?  Here is my short list…

  1.  Praise God for being God…he is holy, just, good and true.  He is always worthy of praise.
  2. Praise God that while I was covered in sin (spiritual vomit), he loved me and died for me.
  3. Praise God that he is making all things new and will one day destroy all sickness, disease and VOMIT!
  4. Praise God that he gives us a sense of how much he loves us.  I love my daughter so much that I get down on my knees instinctively to clean up her vomit.  God does so much more than that.
  5. God is looking for others who are lost in their own spiritual vomit.  He wants to clean them up too and call them “son” and “daughter”.  Praise him!
  6. Praise God that today, I only have to clean up vomit.  I don’t have put an NG tube down my child’s throat or give them shots in the leg or hold them while they go through seizure after seizure or give them CPR.  I’ve done that before.  Other parents will do that today.  All I have to do is clean up this bathroom.  Thank you, Lord!

You can see that even my praises come back to vomit, eh?  But the point is that God is always worthy of praise.  Sometimes in the middle of cleaning up a bathroom you have to work at it, but that doesn’t change the fact that He. Is. Worthy.

The Reformers refocused attention on two central aspects of ancient spirituality: (1) the absolute inability of humanity to choose union with God and (2) the divine initiative in which God is united to humanity through the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus by the Spirit.

-Robert E. Webber, The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life

Happy Reformation Day

Happy Reformation Day!

This October 31st is Reformation Day.  I grew up in a home where we celebrated Reformation Day with pumpkins, costumes and orange T-shirts that said, “Happy Reformation Day!”

Yes, it was a little weird, but fun weird!

This year, we are celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation that made it possible to have another category of Christian.  Because of the Reformation, we are Protestants.  October 31st is the day we celebrate because that is the day a Catholic monk named Martin Luther, mailed or nailed (It’s not clear which one it was!) a list of 95 statements or thesis to the church authorities.  His main point was that salvation comes through faith in Jesus alone.  That got him called before a religious court to defend himself and eventually ex-communicated.

Now some will say that we shouldn’t celebrate the Reformation.  And honestly, there is some validity to that.  In addition to war and blood-shed between Catholic Christians and Protestant Christians, the Reformers themselves had some flaws.  For example,

  • Luther used brutal insults in addressing his opponents including Catholics, Jews and Anabaptists.  While Luther talked about Jews in connection with the bible and theology, some of his comments seem to be anti-Semitic.
  • Zwingli, like John Calvin, approved of the drowning of Felix Manz, a leader in the new Anabaptist movement.

As people who take regular trips to Israel and have Anabaptists in their background, this is troubling.  However, I think it’s possible to still celebrate the reformation for what it was.  It was a group of sinners who read the Bible and were changed.  That’s it.  One of Luther’s 95 Theses (You know, the list he supposedly nailed or mailed?) simply states, “The Church’s true treasure is the gospel of Jesus Christ.”  Later, a year before he died, Luther wrote, “Let the man who would hear God speak, read Holy Scripture.”

This is one of the main messages of the Reformation.  When God’s people read the Bible in their own language, God’s Spirit reforms lives.  The Reformation started 500 years ago, but it’s not something for us just to remember.  It’s something for us to live out.  We are to keep being reformed day after day by the power of God’s Spirit speaking through His Word.

That might even be a good reason to carve a pumpkin with Martin Luther’s face on it and wear an orange T-shirt.  Happy Reformation Day!


Jesus is Our Worship Leader

Last night I was driving home after a night of beautiful chaos…musicians, vocalists and techs coming together to work on a new song, “Your Name is Matchless.”  The lights of the passing cars reflected on the windshield as the line, “ransomed the captives / your name is matchless / beauty for ashes / your name is matchless”, circled in my brain.

It’s in those moments, that we again experience the gospel.  That is the gospel in a nutshell.  That is the “wonderful exchange” where Christ takes the ashes of our sinful, enslaved hearts and makes them beautiful.  That is the moment where he takes our unworthy prayers and wrinkled worship and offers them up to the Father as our high priest.  And we know that it is all an acceptable offering because of “Jesus’ sake”.  One author has said it this way,

Whatever else our worship is, it is our…amen to the worship of Christ…Christian worship is…our participation through the Spirit in the Son’s communion with the Father, in his vicarious life of worship and intercession.*

This might be a new idea for some of us.  We don’t think about it, but some of the songs we sing and some of the language we use makes it seem as if we are worshiping a God who is with us when we sing the right songs or play the right synth pad.   The truth is this:  we worship a God of grace who intercedes for us.  Hebrews says it this way,

…because Jesus lives forever, his priesthood lasts forever.  Therefore he is able, once and forever, to save those who come to God through him.  He lives forever to intercede with God on their behalf.  He is the kind of high priest we need because he is holy and blameless, unstained by sin. He has been set apart from sinners and has been given the highest place of honor in heaven. (7:24-26)

Did you notice that the word “forever” is used more than once?  This isn’t something that was done only once.  Jesus only had to die once, but he continues to offer up our prayers and worship to make them pleasing through his sacrifice now and forever.

He is our worship leader.

He is our high priest.

As I pulled into my street and saw the the streetlights sending shadows up into the trees, I again heard the words of the song.  “…beauty for ashes / your name is matchless”

*Quote from James B. Torance, “Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace”

Worship tells and acts out the life, death, resurrection, and coming again of Christ through the proclamation of the Word and the Table/[Thanksgiving]. We order our service after God’s work of love and salvation. Therefore, it is an order that can be adapted to any church.

-Robert Webber, Worship Is a Verb: Celebrating God’s Mighty Deeds of Salvation, Second Edition


I think the simplicity of focusing on the life, death, resurrection and coming again of Jesus is a good focus for the church.  Simply put, it’s a laser focus on the gospel.  Remembering that, I think, helps immensely in service planning.  I agree with Webber that it is an order that can be adapted for any church.  However, I’ve also found that the regularity of Table is something different denominations disagree on.  Connie Cherry offers the idea of a regular “Thanksgiving” at the end of the service in her book “The Worship Architect”.  I’ve found this to be really helpful.  Communion is the ultimate way of telling the story and thanking God for his answer to our sin, but it’s not an option for all worship pastor’s every week due to history, tradition, theological understandings, etc.  Going back to Cherry’s idea, I think combining regular confession and then “Thanksgiving” helps us tell the same story.  It might not have the same depth of meaning or experience, but is one way to adapt this gospel shaped order to any church.  Thoughts?

New Song: What a Beautiful Name

I recently heard a definition of prayer that applies to worship as well.  “Prayer is intimacy with God that brings about His Kingdom purposes in our lives.”*

As I look at the lyrics of this new song from Hillsong, I think it helps take us from an intimacy with God to a greater sense of of His Kingdom.  It uses three adjectives for the name of Jesus: Beauty, Wonder and Power.  And it also starts with the Genesis story as told in John.  So, let’s jump in and see the scriptures the song-writers used…they start with Creation…

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning. John 1:-2

From there we jump to Colosians where we read about the hidden glory of God in the Old Testament which is now revealed in Jesus, the hope of glory.  Paul writes,

“…God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” -Colossians 1:27

V1: You were the Word at the beginning -John 1
One With God the Lord Most High
Your hidden glory in creation
Now revealed in You our Christ

From there, we hit the first description of Jesus’ name.  The song-writers used the word “Beauty”.  Why?  Fortunately, someone asked them!  They said they used the word because it “evokes the tenderness of His love and the sweetness of His presence.”**

Ch1: What a beautiful Name it is
What a beautiful Name it is
The Name of Jesus Christ my King
What a beautiful Name it is
Nothing compares to this
What a beautiful Name it is
The Name of Jesus

Verse 2 uses poetic language to describe Jesus coming from Heaven to earth.  He is fully God and brought his divine presence (heaven) with him to us.  I think the song-writers are referring to this passage in Phillipians:

Jesus:  Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. (2:6-7)

The next two lines come from John and Paul who talk about the greater love of God that will never allow us to be seperated again…

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. -1 John 4:10

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. -Romans 8:38-39

V2: You didn’t want Heaven without us
So Jesus, You brought heaven down
My sin was great, Your love was greater
What could separate us now

The second chorus is identical to the first EXCEPT for the adjective.  And again, we have to ask the question, “Why?”  Why do the writers use the word “wonder”?  They said that it “speaks to our gratitude for salvation and awe at the lengths of His sacrifice.”**

Ch2: What a wonderful Name it is
What a wonderful Name it is
The Name of Jesus Christ my King…
What a wonderful Name it is
The Name of Jesus

Up until this point, we’ve been talking about the impact of the gospel on our own lives.  But the bridge helps make the shift towards God’s Kingdom purposes.  In case you haven’t read the end of the story, GOD WINS!

“And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.  At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom…There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it…The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.  He is not here; he has risen, just as he said.” -Matthew 27:50-51, 28:2, 5

“Death has been swallowed up in victory.  Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?”-1 Corinthians 15:54-55

“…to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.” – Revelation 1:6b

…far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked”…-Ephesians 1:21

Br: Death could not hold You, the veil tore before You
You silenced the boast, of sin and grave
The heavens are roaring, the praise of Your glory
For You are raised to life again
You have no rival, You have no equal
Now and forever, God You reign
Yours is the Kingdom, Yours is the glory
Yours is the Name, above all names

The last adjective used is “Power”.  This word “affirms His supremacy and Sovereignty—an exhortation to remember our access to the power of God in every situation, as we seek first the kingdom and declare the Name of Jesus.”**  And by the way, “…the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” -Matthew 16:18

Vs3: What a powerful Name it is
What a powerful Name it is
The Name of Jesus Christ my King
What a powerful Name it is
Nothing can stand against
What a powerful Name it is
The Name of Jesus


*This isn’t a direct quote, but a paraphrase of Daniel Henderson.  He is the author of Old Paths/New Power and other books on prayer.

**Quotes from the Hillsong blog.

Spoken Word Psalm 42

This spoken word psalm came out of the staff prayer retreat a few weeks ago.  We had been praying out of the bible and then took an hour for personal reflection.  I realized that I had been overly anxious about the news headlines and my son’s lack of sleep had expanded that fear.  It was coloring the way I saw the world.  During our prayer time, someone had read a piece of Psalm 42 so I went there and rewrote it to help me process my fear and anxiety.  Maybe you have experienced something like that.  Maybe this psalm will help you ask the same question and come to the same answer:  Why does my stomach churn with anxiety within me?  Put your hope in God, for I will again praise Him, my Savior and my God.

As my son screams for streams of

milk in his 3AM bottle,

So my soul cries for you, God.

My soul thirsts for Jesus,

the living God.

Where can I go to meet

with him?


My fears have been my junk-food

day and night.

While headlines fill my news-feed

and seed my mind with questions…

“Where is your God?”

These things I will remember 

as I pour out my soul:

How I used to go with your people

leading the vocals and band with

the children of God

with shouts of joy and 

thanks among the

ranks of His people.


Why?  Why are you down, my soul?

Why does my stomach churn with anxiety

within me?

Put your hope in God,

for I will again praise Him,

my Savior and my God.


But seriously, my stomach churns

and my soul still burns.

Therefore, I will remember you

from the hills of PA

to the chemo for 5 hours a day.

Deep calls to deep,

in the roar of headwaters,

all your waves and hurricanes

have swept over me.

But by day the Lord gives his love,

and at night he sings his lullaby over me.

So now, I pray to the God of my life.

So I say to God,

my Rock in the storm,

“Why does it feel I’ve been still-born?

Why must I deal with cancer and death

and a world that crushes thoughts and breath?

My bones ache, my stomach still churns

as the screen taunts me

all day long,

“Where is your God?”


Why?  Why are you down, my soul?

Why does my stomach churn with anxiety

within me?

Put your hope in God

for I will again praise Him,

my Savior and my God.