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”

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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.

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.

____________________________

*The Worship Pastor by Zack Hicks

We don’t go to worship to celebrate what we have done. We don’t say, “Look, Lord, isn’t it wonderful that I believe in you, follow you, and serve you!” No! We go to worship to praise and thank God for what he has done, is doing, and will do. God’s work in Christ is the focus of worship. 

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

Worship challenges secularism because it establishes a relationship with God and sets the world in order. In worship, the good news is happening again. It reaffirms the reality of God, the significance of life, and the worth of the human person.

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

Spoken-word Psalm 6

I was in the hospital again this week with a friend.  He’s home now and is going to be ok.  I met with another friend over lunch who is struggling with what is happening in his life right now.  Both were struggling so I thought there might be others out there too.

Here is a psalm that I re-wrote for you when you’re tired, hurting, sick or just emotionally worn out.  It was originally written by David because he struggled with the same kinds of things…and he wrote this to God…for himself…for you…

Lord,

don’t hammer me in your anger
    or whoop me in your wrath.
Please have some mercy, Lord, for

I.

am.

tired.

    Heal me, Lord, for my stomach’s on fire.
My soul is delving deep in darkness
    And my heart is a liar.

Turn, Lord, so I can see you;
    save me because of your animating love.
The numb no longer know your name.
    Who praises you while staring at the TV screen?

(Remote control:  click, click, click…)

And here I am worn out from…everything

All night, I sit like a vegetable with arms
    and mumble many mono-syllables.
My eyes grow heavy and hurt;
    and then my nose

starts

to

run.  (snort)

Get behind me, sarcasm,
    (And yeah!, the Lord has seen my selfishness and…that sarcasm too.)
The Lord has heard me “hello?” for help;
    the Lord accepts my pathetic prayer.

All my insecurity will be overwhelmed with holy dreams and sleep;
    as my will repents and prays,

“…the Lord my soul to keep”.

Prayer in Process…

Every week we walk through doors at ECC we see four words.

Pursue.  Prayer.  Preparation.  Participation.

Recently, we started asking some questions.

“How are we doing with those words?”

We have had a variety of answers, but one of them haunts me and is something our staff is working on.

Prayer.

The last two weekends, we talked with our teams about focusing more on God’s worthiness in our prayer times before service.  Our church staff is also meeting with Daniel Henderson throughout the year to learn and grow in our leadership.  Our first meeting with him was a week ago and helpful for us.  We are also reading Henderson’s book, “Old Paths / New Power” and a few quotes have jumped out at me.  He writes…

“If we have not time we must make time, for if God has given us time for secondary duties, He must have given us time for primary ones, and to draw near to Him is a primary duty…”

“To be effective, these priorities must relentlessly shape your schedule.  Each week the calendar must be organized around these commitments.  Otherwise distractions will tank effectiveness.”

This is true.  Whether we like to admit it or not, we make time for the things that are important to us.  Last week was busy for me, but I made sure to run out of the office in time to see my daughter’s soccer game in the late afternoon.  (They lost.)

How will it change us if we take time out of our schedule?  I don’t know, but we’re going to find out.  We will take a bit more time on the weekends to praise God for who he is.  I am taking a 1/2 day once a month to get away and pray.  Now, I might miss a month here and there and it doesn’t have to be a whole 1/2 a day.  The point is that I am working on my awareness of God’s presence in the normal parts of my day and redeeming time even if it’s just in the car or running outside in the morning.

So like I said, I don’t know how it will change us or myself.  I’m guessing that the process is the point as much as the outcome.

But we’re going to see…

New Song: Gadol Adonai (Great is the Lord)

Last year, our family traveled to Mexico.  While there, we worshipped with a Spanish speaking congregation.  It was hard to follow along, I won’t deny it.  But there were moments when I understood what we were doing together.  For example, when the band transitioned from an upbeat praise song that I didn’t know into “Cuan Grande Es Dios” (or “How Great is our God”), I raised my hands and sang.  It was a taste of what heaven will be like when every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord and his people will shout praises.  This weekend, I’m hoping to have a similar experience as we sing both in English and Hebrew.  Yes, Hebrew!  AND You already know the song!  It’s the same song we sang last summer.  And I know, I know, it will be stretch for us, but we will take time to learn it together.  And when we get it, it will be powerful to hear God’s praises in another language.  We will sing the intro and chorus in Hebrew and the rest in English.  Here goes…

Intro: Gadol Adonai umehulal me’od, B’ir Eloheinu, B’har kodsho X2

I know, it’s going to be a challenge at first, but hang with it!  This comes straight from Psalm 48:1 which says,

“GREAT IS THE LORD, AND MOST WORTHY OF PRAISE, IN THE CITY OF OUR GOD, HIS HOLY MOUNTAIN.”

So not only are we singing in Hebrew, we are singing God’s word in the original language!  But I still don’t want to push it, so back to English…

Verse 1: I’ll come before Your throne, The God of my joy

I’ll give the fruit of my lips

And remember the great things You did, for me

Remember.  That word shows up in the scriptures 231 times.  Why, do you think?  I’m pretty sure it’s because God knows us so well, he knows that we forget.  I also love that this verse refers to Psalm 34 where we see that God’s light and care guide us into his presence and that is where we praise and remember.  Check it out…

Send me your light and your faithful care,
    let them lead me;
let them bring me to your holy mountain,
    to the place where you dwell.
Then I will go to the altar of God,
    to God, my joy and my delight.
 -Psalm 34:3-4a

Moving on…

Verse 2: Behold the temple of God, is now with man

As His people all nations will rise

He will wipe every tear from their eyes

Death, pain and mourning will cease forevermore!

We are going to see this as we dig deeper into studying the temple, but now we are the temple of God.  This is clear in two different places…
“Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple,” writes Paul in 1 Corinthians 3:16, “and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?”  And he also writes, “In him (that’s Jesus) the whole building (that’s us!) is joined together and rises to become a holytemple in the Lord” (Eph 2:21).
Back to Hebrew…

Chorus: Hallelujah ki malach Adonai Eloheinu, Hallelujah ki malach Elohei Tzvaot

This comes almost directly from the last book of the bible where John sees a vision of heaven.  He writes,

“Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude…“Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns”. -Revelation 19:6

Just like my taste of heaven in Mexico, at the end of time all people in every tongue will praise God.  But the song also gives us a chance to slow down and meditate.  We aren’t in glory yet.  So until we get there we need to remember and rejoice.  As it says in the psalms,

Then my soul will rejoice in the Lord
    and delight in his salvation.
My whole being will exclaim,
    “Who is like you, Lord? -Psalm 35:9-10

Bridge: Rejoice, oh rejoice my soul, And give honor to him X2