Friday, January 14, 2011
I'm in the Certificate Phase of the worship theology courses I've been a part of these last two years, going back through the material and finishing the additional requirements that will earn me a Certificate in Worship Studies. Certainly, just a piece of paper. Most definitely much more than that in terms of growth in depth of understanding of many things related to worship, the passion of my life.
Yesterday I began a dvd series on songwriting for worship titled Worship Songwriting: Embracing Heart and Developing Skill by Brian Doerksen. Doerksen talks about the heart of a songwriter that says "There's got to be more. What I've written up until now is just a glimmer of what is in my heart to write," encouraging us to write, to be willing to take risks, to try anything, to look foolish, and to not fear mistakes.
He references Jimmy Webb who in his book Tunesmith tells of a time when he had been taken under the wing of Broadway master Michael Bennett. Mr. Bennett shows Jimmy the room where he will be composing music and says, "In this room, you can never make a mistake." 
At first read, I cringed and thought, "Wow, what a lot of pressure to have to work under, to never be able to make a mistake." But as Jimmy continues, he explains that what was really meant was that "there is no crossed-out, blotted word on paper or half-croaked note or stumbling, tripping step toward the songwriter's goal that is unseemly or shameful...creativity is a blameless process...to exist at all it must function unselfconsciously and without guilt..." 
What a relief to hear, and Brian's encouragement to not fear mistakes seems a little more doable in light of there not being anything shameful or unseemly in creative attempts.
Now, creativity will be challenged, even opposed, particularly when it comes to worship songwriting done out of a passion to see God's Kingdom come here on earth as it is in Heaven. There is an opposing kingdom that would seek to destroy the heart of every sincere songwriter and leave it a mangled mess of discouragement, despair, and depression.
That's why it is so important to remember that everything we do out of love and service to God has a part in building for His Kingdom. I can guard my heart and mind with the truth that God delights in my feeble offerings of creativity, whether they be eloquent lines or scribbles of thought, and there is no shame in offering it to God.
Why not write a song today? Scripture says that we are to sing to the Lord a new song (Psalm 33, 96, 98, 144, 149 - to name a few). Go ahead and sing Him a few lines from your heart. Risk a few moments of embarrassment and be willing to look foolish as you reflect the glory of the Lord back to Him in your creative offering.
1 Jimmy Webb, Tunesmith (Hyperion: New York, 1998), 21.
2 Ibid, 22.
Saturday, January 8, 2011
(see Part 1 here)
With the issue of the resurrection settled once again in my mind, Wright moves to why a good understanding of Easter is important. Easter is not “Jesus is raised; therefore there is life after death.” Easter announces that “Jesus is raised, so he is the Messiah, and therefore he is the world’s true Lord; Jesus is raised, so God’s new creation has begun – and we, his followers, have a job to do! Jesus is raised, so we must act as his heralds, announcing his lordship to the entire world, making his Kingdom come on earth as in heaven.” 
This gives life so much more purpose than waiting and watching for death to come or the end of the world to arrive so that I might go to Heaven. I have a job to do, and the resurrection means that “nothing done in the Lord, in the power of the Spirit, in the present time will be wasted in God’s future.” It brings meaning to everything I do in His name.
The Enlightenment and the Renaissance say that “history is accelerating towards a wonderful goal…[and] we will become what we have the potential to be by education and hard work.”  Platonic Dualism that says the physical is evil, the body is a tomb to escape. But Christianity says that the new creation was birthed through the resurrection of Jesus and it is only through the work on the cross that redemption occurs.
Early Christians didn’t believe in progress nor in deterioration of the world with a goal to escape it. “They believed that God was going to do for the whole cosmos what he had done for Jesus at Easter” and that they were to be His instruments for that work. They, along with all of creation, had a forward look to the future in God.
“It looks as though God intends to flood the universe with himself, as though the universe, the entire cosmos, was designed as a receptacle for his love…it is designed to be filled, flooded, drenched in God…” Creation is not yet complete and is waiting for that day when all the forces of rebellion have been vanquished and creation is completely free to respond to the love of the Creator.
In Revelation, joining of Heaven and Earth is not the separation of the world from God, but the right joining of God with creation in a redeemed relationship. Erroneous end-times theology says that this world is doomed for destruction and Christians will be rescued out of it. Judgment is mistakenly seen as vengeful. In reality it is that “God…in the end, [will] put it all to rights, straighten it out, producing not just a sigh of relief all around but shouting for joy from the trees and the fields, the seas and the floods. “
The settling happening deep within me is an echo of that sigh that all of creation will breathe on the last days. It’s the recognition that this process, this journey that I am on is all part of God’s straightening-out plan that He’s called me to be a part of. The resurrection is not all about me and my redemption, although it certainly is a part of it. My ultimate destiny is not the ultimate question. Israel thought that how they were going to be rescued by God was the ultimate purpose of God. But what God was really acting on was how He was/is going to rescue the world through Israel and rescue Israel in the process. Asking instead what my part is in God’s rescue mission of the world puts me in a position for being rescued in the process of the world being rescued. 
Jesus was doing in the present what He was promising in the future, giving people the opportunity to experience redemption in the present so that they might enjoy the renewal process leading into the future, becoming co-laborers with Him in this renewal, re-creation, redemptive process. “The point of the resurrection…is that the present bodily life is not valueless just because it will die…What you do in the present – by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself – will last into God’s future…They are part of what we may call building for God’s kingdom.”
Thus, my whole life, every act of worship must be reordered around the resurrection. “…our present space, time, and matter are all subject not to rejection but to redemption.” I must look at my world with new lenses because of the resurrection. It infuses hope into every situation because God is at work right here and right now through His agents (you and me empowered by His Spirit) to redeem the whole of creation. This world is passing away in the sense that the old is gone and the new is here. It is not awaiting destruction but rather redemption and that work began at the cross and was birthed at the resurrection.
While some days it may feel like my world is sliding into greater and greater chaos and disarray, the truth in light of the resurrection is that it is being redeemed bit by bit through the power of the redemptive work of Jesus. My hope that was being whittled away by the worries and cares of this world so needed an infusion of the Truth that came via N.T. Wright and Surprised by Hope. There will still be days of struggle. There will probably still be days when I find my hope in need of refreshing. But now I stand stronger, wiser, more firmly convinced of Whom I have believed, of the reality of His resurrection, and of the wonderful, redeeming move of God that has been sweeping the planet since the day Jesus rose from the dead.
As the wife of an ex-Christian agnostic, there are days when my faith feels shaky, when I wonder (again) if there is any validity to my husband’s doubts, when I wonder if what I’ve chosen to believe is really true. Most days what anchors me is the experience of a relationship with Christ that has sustained me the better part of my life. But there are days when the intellectual arguments replay in my thoughts and doubts creep in.
Enter Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright. I wasn’t having “one of those days” when I started reading it, but as the words began to soak into my soul, I found myself settling somewhere deep inside. This particular season of life has been so crazy that I didn’t even notice the internal swirlings as needing to be settled. I hadn’t even had time to acknowledge their existence, much less analyze the source.
The reality is, though, that my hope had been waning, and I didn’t even know it.
N.T. Wright begins by asking: “First, what is the ultimate Christian hope. Second, what hope is there for change, rescue, transformation, new possibilities within the world in the present?” What is this hope that fuels all we are to do as Christians? Answering these questions is a matter of “thinking straight about God and His purposes for the cosmos and about what God is doing right now, already as a part of those purposes.”
Straight thinking. It really begins there. Having renewed thinking, getting the right thoughts about God and who He is is essential to a vibrant and healthy relationship with the Triune God. In this 2-part post I am going to explore some of the ideas put forth in Surprised by Hope that have helped to restore hope in my life.
My view of death and resurrection are key to sustaining straight thinking about God and His Kingdom. Is death an enemy or “welcome friend”? According to Scripture, death is an enemy that was conquered at the cross. The Platonic view has invaded Christian thinking, however, causing us to devalue this present world, our physical bodies, and to think of them as somehow shabby or shameful. With this view, death is welcomed as an escape from this world.
But is Heaven just a place we go to when we die? If so, then shouldn’t we welcome death so that we can go to heaven to be with God? Wright points out that such a view of heaven limits our understanding of God. Heaven is God’s Kingdom, and it’s not just somewhere we go when we die. Heaven is “the other, hidden dimension of our ordinary life…God’s dimension.” It is His rule coming on earth as it is in Heaven.
So where does the ultimate Christian hope lie? While glorious and certainly wonderful, Heaven is not it. Our hope lies in the event of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ and the new creation that was birthed in that moment.
Not found in paganism, the idea of resurrection was unique to Jewish and later to Christian thought. For the first-century Jew, however, resurrection was thought to be a sweeping event for all of God’s people that would bring God’s Kingdom here on earth as in Heaven. With Christianity, resurrection became two events: 1) Jesus – one person in the middle of history and 2) believers on the last day.
For my husband, the resurrection is one of the key points of contention. Most agnostic literature around our house brings it into question and categorizes it as a tale told by the disciples in order to explain away an awkward situation: the death of Jesus, the supposed Messiah.
What is interesting to note is that the Jews did not ever anticipate a messiah who would die, much less one who would raise from the dead. When Jesus spoke of raising from the dead, it would have confused the disciples who were thinking of the resurrection as one event for all of God’s people, not one that their teacher would experience before them. “No Jew with any idea of how the language of messiahship worked could have possibly imagined, after his crucifixion, that Jesus of Nazareth was indeed the Lord’s anointed. But from very early on, as witnessed by what may be pre-Pauline fragments of early creedal belief, the Christians affirmed that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, precisely because of his resurrection.” (to be continued)
1 N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope (New York: HarperCollins Press, 2008), 5.
2 Ibid, 5.
3 Ibid, 17.
4 Ibid, 26.
5 Ibid, 19.
6 Ibid, 42.
7 Ibid, 45.
8 Ibid, 47-48.
Thursday, January 6, 2011
We serve a God who celebrates. All throughout Scripture, God is shown as one who rejoices, who dances, who sings over His creation. He set up feast days and commanded the people of Israel to celebrate. Jesus’ first miracle was performed at a celebration. Celebration is not a human idea. It is first of all God’s idea, and He alone truly knows how to celebrate.
Nowhere in Scripture is celebration a dry, rigid event. It is filled with food, laughter, dancing, and rejoicing. The fact that the church at Corinth was reprimanded for becoming drunk at the Lord’s table indicates that the early church’s communion time was a much more festive and abundant occasion than our meager cracker and sip of juice/wine of today. I think the pendulum has swung too far.
“Fundmentally, those who lose their joy when they see dancing or hear laughter in the church have a faulty understanding of God. Subjectively, they cannot truly enjoy such things because they do not really believe that God would enjoy such things. A radical change in one’s view of God should take place at the point of conversion, because celebration is part and parcel of salvation. “
At the heart of our reaction to celebration is a lie that says that God is always somber and that emotion and physical expression in worship is displeasing to Him. We only have to look at the Psalms to see that this is not the case. The Psalms are full of expressive acts of worship and full of emotion. In the Old Testament, celebration was a solemn requirement, not an option. Deut 16:15 “…you shall be altogether joyful.” I guess joy and celebration do not have to spring from a feeling!
High points in the Old Testament were marked by festivity and dancing “especially…when God’s mighty acts were experienced or when the covenant was renewed.” I hate to say it, but in the West, festivity and dancing of this nature are reserved for touchdowns and homeruns by our favorite sports teams. God might get a golf clap or an “amen” or “halleluiah” in church today. The truth is: He deserves a hoe down.
“As the church retreated from the use of dance in worship, it was gradually taken over by secular society, and what was originally created by God for the praise of God became the property of men with no love for God. The secularization of dance is a direct result, not of the renewal of the church, but of the retreat of the church.” 
Let’s get renewed. Let’s allow the light of His countenance to shed light on the lies we are believing about Him that are keeping us from joining in the fullness of the celebration that He intends for us to participate in here on earth. Let’s open our hearts and minds to the cleansing power of His Truth and allow Him to reset our thinking about who He really is: the celebratory God that dances wildly with ecstatic jumping and leaping over His beloved bride.
1 Derek Morphew, "The Restoration of Celebration," Inside Worship.
I love the way that Peter Fitch describes the disciplines of worship leaders:
Foot-washing: we are to love and serve in humility and grace those whom the Lord has placed in our care. We can only do this out of the overflow of our relationship with God. “…the quality of the water in the basin will have something to do with the quality of the leader’s secret inner life with God.” Amen.
Loaves and fishes: we are never to become dependent on our gifts to get the job done. “…we are ultimately in a position of inadequacy no matter how gifted we are…Human musicianship…does not have the capacity to touch the soul and set it spiritually free. Jesus does. We offer the loaves and fishes of our songs and ideas; He adds His Presence in a mysterious and miraculous way.”
Water-walking: leading worship is risky business. We are often called to get out of the boat and walk out beyond the comfortable places into something we can only do in His strength.
Cross-carrying: we must die to self. “…there will be more need for soul-cleansing in the people around you than there will be for you to artistically express yourself.”
Raising the dead: faithfulness to the above disciplines may give me the “experience …of watching people that are lost and hopeless suddenly receiving the Life of God in a tangible way, shattering bondages and bringing them into newness and freedom and joy.”
all quotes from Peter Fitch, "Inner Living, Outer Giving: Spiritual Disciplines for the Worshiping Heart", Inside Worship.
Tuesday, January 4, 2011
Singing is an important part of corporate worship. It’s easy to do together and when a song is familiar, everyone can join in.
There is another aspect to song termed in Scripture as the “new” song. We have been given a gift: “the capacity to respond to the present work of God with a heart song that is fresh, immediate, current, renewing and rebuilding – a song that is pleasing to the One we worship, and by extension is a strength to our souls.”  Most often we are a part of the corporate song, but the new song gives wings to what God is doing in this moment and allows a fresh response to His goodness and love in our lives. Most important of all, God must be the source of the new, fresh songs, not the culture.
For too long, now, culture has been given the reigns of creativity that once belonged to the Church. Instead of the Church leading in creativity in just about any arena, the culture has become the one to set the standard and to define what is popular and what is not.
As a worship leader, I have the opportunity to change the tide in small ways within the sphere of influence that the Lord gives me. Jesus “has moored His worship…in human civilization” , and we are asked to be vessels of His redemptive power at work within each of us to bring healing and wholeness to the culture, to the world around us. We don’t do this by mimicking culture; rather, we do it through catching God’s heart, delighting in who He is, and releasing the sound of the Lord to the earth through whatever gifts and talents He has placed within us.
1 Dan Wilt, "Exploring Our Roots: The Contemporary Worship Movement", Inside Worship.