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

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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.

Faith and Date Candy

On Tuesday, I was making date candy.

To be exact, I was helping my daughter make date candy, but that’s besides the point.  On Tuesday, I tasted date candy and it was an amazing experience…the sweet, gooey flavor mixed with a sprinkling of nuts and cinnamon.  Wowsers.  It changed my life.

Ok, maybe that’s a slight overstatement, but I am hoping that there was some small life change.  But before I tell you what I mean, let’s back up.

This year, our family has decided to homeschool.  I’m not sure if we will do it long term.  There are lots of good educational options, but for this year, we are hoping that it will help us gel as a family with two adults, an 11-year old girl and an 8-month old baby boy.  So on Tuesday, my day off, my daughter and I were learning about Ancient Egypt and one of the projects was to make a date candy that the Egyptians might have eaten.  She did most of the work chopping the dates and nuts, mixing in the water and spices and rolling them into balls.  I crushed the cardamom spices and did an amazing job, if I do say so myself.

While she was doing most of the work, I got to thinking about places in the Bible that talk about dates.  I found one in 1 Chronicles 16:1-3.  David brings the Ark up to Jerusalem and we read…

They brought the Ark of God and placed it inside the special tent David had prepared for it. And they presented burnt offerings and peace offerings to God.  When he had finished his sacrifices, David blessed the people in the name of the Lord.  Then he gave to every man and woman in all Israel a loaf of bread, a cake of dates, and a cake of raisins.

When the date candy was done, we read these verses and talked about how the Israelites ate dates too.  In fact, this date candy might be similar to what David gave to the people on this exciting day when God’s ark was brought back to Jerusalem.  And then we bit into the date candy…the sweet, gooey flavor mixed with a sprinkling of nuts and cinnamon.  Wowsers.  It changed my life.

Or at least it hope it will change my life…and my daughter’s too.  What I realized again, is that faith is more “caught than taught”.  I can talk about God’s word and faith until I’m blue in the face.  We can talk about pursuing God and prayer until we are red in the face, BUT none of that will make any difference in anyone’s life if we don’t also live it.  We need to be people who pray.  We need to be people who live faith.  We need to be people who make faith just as real as eating a sweet, gooey date candy.

Wowsers.  It just might change your life.

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…

__________________

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