“I make all things new.”  Here is the narrative in its fullness. The world and its history belongs to God, and he has been, is now, and will be making all things new. 

-Robert Webber, Who Gets to Narrate the World? Contending for the Christian Story in an Age of Rivals

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God chooses to restore humanity not by a decree of reconciliation, not by a sentimental forgiveness, not by a soft love, but by entering into union with humanity. In Jesus, God comes in human skin to reverse the human condition and reconcile humanity to the Father. . .

-Robert Webber, Who Gets to Narrate the World? Contending for the Christian Story in an Age of Rivals

Worship&Creation

Who was the world’s first human worship leader?

Take a moment to think it through.

If you said, “David”, you need to go back a bit further to just after the beginning of time.

If you said, “Adam and Eve”, you got it right!  Adam and Eve were not only the first people created, but also the first worship leaders of all creation.  God made this place called Eden and then a king and queen in place to rule over it.

“But how were Adam and Eve worship leaders?” you ask.

I’m glad you asked.  Because God’s word tells us, but it might not be the way you think.  First, Eden wasn’t just a garden.  It was a special place where God and man could live together.  Genesis tells us that God “walked” in the garden with Adam and Eve.

Secondly, Adam was not just the king, he was also a priest.  But it wasn’t leading worship services or sing-a-longs.  There was no need for any of that.  All of life was acceptable to God because sin hadn’t entered the world.  AND, everything that Adam and Eve did was an act of worship.  It was all a loving response to what God had made.  Author Mike Cosper writes that

“it was as if they drew all of creation’s praise into a single and unified ‘hallelujah’ and ‘amen’.”

And this is how it was meant to be.  Worship is supposed to be all of our lives.  This idea that we come together for one hour once a week to worship in a way that is separate from the rest of our lives isn’t apart of the worship in Eden.  The idea that we need to sing certain songs or take part in certain rituals is also not apart of the worship in Eden.  Cosper continues, “if someone were to ask Adam, ‘When do you worship?’ he might reply, ‘When do we not!'”

For us during the Advent season, may we have more of this attitude.  May our worship be like the worship in Eden.  We aren’t perfect, but it’s a worthy goal to have all of our lives be an act of worship to God even when we are worshiping in the wilderness.

But more on that, next week…

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*Multiple quotes from “Rhythms of Grace” by Mike Cosper here.  Thanks, Mike!

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

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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

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*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.

Wonder

As I strum the guitar, his eyes get wide and his mouth drops open.  He can’t wait to try to pluck one of the strings and then bang on the body of the guitar like a drum.  I ask my middle-schooler what she learned today and she says, “Noth’in”.  But as I ask another question and hit a nerve of interest, her eyes light up and she tells me about her project and her new favorite book that I “JUST HAVE TO READ”.  And I laugh with joy as both of my children remind me of the power of wonder and awe.

It’s easy to loose that sense of wonder, isn’t it?  The alarm goes off.  We pour the coffee and drive to work.  We put in our hours and go home…day after day after day…our whole lives are put into little boxes that a labeled in scientific and naturalistic terms.  We aren’t still children, but deep inside, we know there is more to the world.

For many of us, this daily grind and disenchantment has undercut our worship too.  It might seem like the belief in the Creator God’s powerful presence in worship is a crazy fantasy.  But there is more.  There is a holy imagination that will helps us remember the wonder of God.

For me, there are a few things that help me as I try to see the power of the Holy Spirit.

  • First, I work to nurture a sense of wonder in myself.  Sometimes, it’s a prayer to the Lord asking him to open my eyes to his power and wonder.
  • Second, I am trying to sing songs, pray and read scripture that builds the language of wonder of worship.  I’m trying to help us all remember that GOD IS HERE NOW WITH US!
  • Third, we try to make room in our services for prayer where we can stop from the daily grind and sense God’s presence to forgive us from sin or to sing without the full band.

That is just three things I’m doing right now, but the real question for all of us is this:  “Do we really believe?”

Father, open our hearts and eyes by your Holy Spirit to fill us with wonder.  In Jesus’ name…

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Content from The Worship Pastor by Zack Hicks

Worship itself is a re-presentation of Christ. . . . Consequently, when we worship, the conflict between good and evil that we experience in our everyday lives is confronted and resolved.  We leave worship once again with the personal assurance that the battle is won—Satan has been, is now being, and will be defeated. Because we are confident in Christ’s victory, we experience a great release from the burden of our sin and we become filled with joy and peace.

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

Pursue God.

PURSUE.  This is our word for the year.  But, do we live it out?

I’m not sure I always do.

For me, it’s a word that calls us to spend our lives for God’s Kingdom.  For me, it’s an emotional word.  Let me break it down like this…

Our emotions are connected to the things that we care about.  Think about it.  When do you get the most emotional?  For example, If you’ve lost a loved one, as I have, you might break down in tears as you remember them.  We get emotional about the things that we care about.

So in our worship services, we should get emotional.  Right?  Again for example, in a worship service you should experience awe and wonder because you have experienced God as good and awe-inspiring.  When we sing, we are forming our heart’s desires to PURSUE God.

But what happens if we don’t do this?  Why would that be a problem?  Pastor Zack Hicks says it this way,

“Worship devoid of emotion is a dangerous thing because it can train us into believing that these concerns really aren’t concerns.  This is why emotionless worship is just as toxic to our faith as haphazardly emotional worship is.”*

Part of our role as singers, musicians, techs and dramatists is that we create space where people can feel the right emotions at the right times and about the right things.  When we sing about sin, we should be crushed because it separates us from God.  When we create art about salvation, we should be filled with hope and joy because it is the only way to find life.  This is just ONE way we PURSUE God!

Now, it’s also important make sure that we know what our job is and what it ISN’T!  As the old saying goes, “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.”  We can lead people to develop their emotional responses to the gospel of Jesus as they pursue God, but it’s alway the Holy Spirit (and ONLY the Holy Spirit) who makes people feel those emotions!  It’s the Holy Spirit who enables us to PURSUE.

Our goal is NOT to be more emotional.  Our goal is to PURSUE GOD and therefore become people of joy, love, hope and peace inside and outside of our worship services.

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*The Worship Pastor by Zack Hicks