Christianity 201

October 15, 2017

Sunday Worship

A few years ago we were reading Psalm 106. You know that one. The one where the Israelites are reminded of all the times they screwed up as a nation. The times they forgot their God. Then it suddenly occurs to me. This is a PSALM. They SANG THIS. This was one of their WORSHIP SONGS. As in, “Take your hymnbook and turn to number 106.” How do you SING stuff that is so self deprecating? Definitely a minor key.

6 We have sinned, even as our fathers did;
we have done wrong and acted wickedly.

7 When our fathers were in Egypt,
they gave no thought to your miracles;
they did not remember your many kindnesses,
and they rebelled by the sea, the Red Sea.

13 But they soon forgot what he had done
and did not wait for his counsel.

14 In the desert they gave in to their craving;
in the wasteland they put God to the test.

15 So he gave them what they asked for,
but sent a wasting disease upon them.

16 In the camp they grew envious of Moses
and of Aaron, who was consecrated to the LORD.

17 The earth opened up and swallowed Dathan;
it buried the company of Abiram.

18 Fire blazed among their followers;
a flame consumed the wicked.

19 At Horeb they made a calf
and worshiped an idol cast from metal.

20 They exchanged their Glory
for an image of a bull, which eats grass.

21 They forgot the God who saved them,
who had done great things in Egypt,

22 miracles in the land of Ham
and awesome deeds by the Red Sea.

23 So he said he would destroy them—
had not Moses, his chosen one,
stood in the breach before him
to keep his wrath from destroying them.

24 Then they despised the pleasant land;
they did not believe his promise.

25 They grumbled in their tents
and did not obey the LORD.

26 So he swore to them with uplifted hand
that he would make them fall in the desert,

27 make their descendants fall among the nations
and scatter them throughout the lands.

28 They yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor
and ate sacrifices offered to lifeless gods;

29 they provoked the LORD to anger by their wicked deeds,
and a plague broke out among them.

30 But Phinehas stood up and intervened,
and the plague was checked.

31 This was credited to him as righteousness
for endless generations to come.

32 By the waters of Meribah they angered the LORD,
and trouble came to Moses because of them;

33 for they rebelled against the Spirit of God,
and rash words came from Moses’ lips. [c]

34 They did not destroy the peoples
as the LORD had commanded them,

35 but they mingled with the nations
and adopted their customs.

36 They worshiped their idols,
which became a snare to them.

37 They sacrificed their sons
and their daughters to demons.

38 They shed innocent blood,
the blood of their sons and daughters,
whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan,
and the land was desecrated by their blood.

39 They defiled themselves by what they did;
by their deeds they prostituted themselves.

40 Therefore the LORD was angry with his people
and abhorred his inheritance.

41 He handed them over to the nations,
and their foes ruled over them.

42 Their enemies oppressed them
and subjected them to their power.

43 Many times he delivered them,
but they were bent on rebellion
and they wasted away in their sin.

Okay, I left out a few of the good verses. But even so…

We always want our songs to be happy.  The modern church doesn’t do lament well. What if Western Christians had a song that was the modern equivalent to this?  In her review at Thinking Out Loud of The Ben Ripple my wife wrote:

All in all, it is important for us to know stories like Ben’s.  The places where God meets us face to face, and the places where he stands quietly behind us.  What the family next door might be going through and what they may deal with from one day to the next.  It’s been said that we live in a world that has forgotten how to lament — to cry out to God our pain and fear and loss.  This book is just such a thing, but like so many of the laments in Scripture, it ends on a note of “nevertheless…”  The possibility of healing, the value of trusting, the necessity of faith in one who loves us.

In a review of a new NLT edition that contains a section of laments, I quoted the authors:

“These are the questions we’re all afraid to ask God, and the complaints we might hesitate to voice to him. The truth is, God desires our honest doubts, questions and complaints. After all, the writers of the Bible regularly lament, crying out to God and questioning him about injustices, pains and problems.

In 2012 at Internet Monk, Chaplain Mike looked at our propensity to edit the Psalms of Lament to suit our purposes in a piece about Sanitizing the Wilderness:

Contemporary “worship” music is especially weak when it comes to giving voice to the full spectrum of human experiences and emotions. Even when today’s songwriters make use of the Psalms they tend to transform the raw, earthy language that describes our complex, often messy relationships with God and others into easily digestible spiritual sentiments…

…It takes one image from a rich, profound, complex and realistic description of life and latches on to it because the image evokes a simple devotional sentiment that prompts an immediate emotion. We set it to music, and voila! — people get the idea we are singing “Scripture.”

Instead, in Psalm 106, we have true scripture, but the part of it that we tend to ignore or forget. But in its own way, this too is worship.


We also looked at Psalm 106 in a June, 2012 article, God Keeps Putting Up With Us.

September 17, 2017

Sunday Worship

While worship – acknowledging the worth of God – should be part of our everyday lives, we tend to do this best in a corporate setting. While we began this series saying that worship is more than just music; more than what we sing; we often forget that in that same corporate setting, we can ascribe worth to God, along with his majesty and greatness and power, in the words we pray.

This begs the question: Should those words be planned or spontaneous? While the terminology may differ if you’re taking a course in public speaking, rhetoric, debate, etc., in The Church we usually speak of extemporaneous worship vs. liturgy. So in prayer we’re talking about prayers which are generated on the spot, as opposed to those read from prayer books, from the prayers found in the Bible itself, or prayers simply written in advance.

Although the context is slightly different, I’m often drawn to this verse in this debate:

What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also.
-1 Corinthians 14:15 ESV

While I’m sure there is much to find online about the negative aspects of spontaneous prayer — “Well, uh, Lord we just want to tell you and Lord we just want to ask you from the bottom of our hearts that, um, well, Lord… I just forgot what I was going to say…” — there are times when prayers simply overflowing from a heart of both gratitude and devotion are exactly what is needed.

But instead, we want to focus today on the positive aspects of perhaps planning to use something which has been previously written. This is a small part of an article by David Bennett at the website Ancient and Future Catholics. Click the title below to read the entire article.

Objection: Why Do You Pray Using a Book

1. Written Prayers Provide a Solid Structure for Worship
The original intention of using written prayers was to provide a basic order for worship and prayer. This basic order can be traced back to the earliest church, and the words and phrases of most written prayers and liturgies (such as you may encounter in a Catholic or Orthodox Church) are practically lifted verbatim from the Bible or the writings of saints. The traditional order of worship includes the spiritually necessary parts of a worship service: confession, thanksgiving, communion, etc.

2. Written Prayers Allow for Common Prayer
The early Church was a tight-knit community. Today, thanks to Western enlightenment values, many tend to view Christianity as a highly personal matter. The early Church did not. Therefore, they often prayed many prayers together, and always would offer an “amen” after the presider said his words. The idea that everybody comes to worship to sing a few songs, hear a sermon, and pray their own spontaneous prayers that do not include the entire assembly is foreign to early Christian ideals, and was not a generally accepted way of worshipping until the latter half of the 20th century.

3. Written Prayers Allow For Real Freedom of Worship
(See # 1) I remember trying to piece together something for morning devotions, asking myself continually, “where in the heck do I start?” This became a bigger problem as I would spend more and more time just wandering during my private prayer time. Once I discovered the written forms of Morning and Evening Prayer, I found that having the structure actually gave me more freedom. Instead of wandering aimlessly, lacking any focus, I had a structure to work within. Keep in mind, written prayer forms allow for plenty of spontaneity, if not more, than structure-less prayer. Think of it like a football game. There are structures and rules…but…think of how much excitement is allowed within the structures! If we showed up to a field every Sunday and just acted spontaneously, we would rarely have as much fun as playing football, because the form of football is a proven, fun game. In the same way, liturgical form worship is proven, meaningful, and biblical worship, where a whole lot of cool things happen.

4. Written Prayers Connect Us to the Past and to the Wider Church
When we pray written prayers together, we are doing so with billions of past and present Christians. Thus, when praying written prayers we are not spiritually isolated within our own region or time period. Instead we are saying prayers that have been faithfully said throughout history. We are praying with Africans, Asians, Europeans, etc, and not just those of our same culture. Think of how many people have recited the Lord’s prayer, or the Agnes Dei, or the Sanctus. The number is certainly in the billions and includes peoples of all races and classes.

5. Written Prayers Are Time-Tested
Most well-known written prayers, including those used during Mass by Catholics, Orthodox, and some Protestants, are time-tested because of their theological orthodoxy and clearly-stated themes. I have been in many non-liturgical churches, and sometimes the spontaneous prayers are so long and rambling that I wish the pastor had written down something! Sometimes they are so theologically thin that they seem so sickly and superficial when compared to great prayers of the past.

6. Jesus Gave Us a Set Form For Prayer
When Jesus taught us to pray, he gave us what has been traditionally called “The Lord’s Prayer” or, more commonly in Catholic circles, the “Our Father.” When Jesus gave his disciples this prayer, he gave them a useful form, which they could use and build from. He did not say, “when you pray, simply speak to God like you’re his best buddy, and say whatever comes from your heart.” While spontaneously speaking to God from the heart is very important, Jesus’ model for prayer is a form, showing the value of this type of prayer.

7. Written Prayers are Scriptural
Liturgical prayer, that is, prayer mixed with ritual, is firmly rooted in ancient Jewish worship. Ancient Jewish worship was not only strikingly ritualistic, but relied heavily on written prayers (for example, the Psalms). Christian worship follows in this pattern. Catholic worship even regularly integrates a Psalm (or similar canticle) into daily and weekly prayer services and Masses, usually sung, as in ancient Hebrew worship. This shows that many written prayers used in Catholic worship are taken directly from the Bible! Thus, written prayers allow a person to “pray Scripture.” Many written prayers that are not directly taken from the Bible are nonetheless full of biblical themes and symbols. Thus, far from being unbiblical, written prayers are probably the most biblical prayers available.

Does this mean there is no value to spontaneous prayers? Of course not! While written prayers are good for a variety of reasons, their use does not exclude made-up prayers. In fact, having a written form as a basic structure allows one real freedom to be spontaneous. Yes, written prayers can be misused, and are often said by people who don’t believe them, but this is hardly the fault of the prayers themselves. Spontaneous prayers can be misused as well. So why not give written prayers a try?

August 20, 2017

Sunday Worship

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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This is a writer who is new to us. Neil White, is a Lutheran (ELCA) Pastor, currently Senior Pastor for Rejoice Lutheran in Frisco, Texas. His blog is called Sign of the Rose. To read this at source, and then navigate to other articles, click the title below.

The Disconnect Between Worship and Obedience: Jeremiah 6: 15-21

15 They acted shamefully, they committed abomination;
yet they were not ashamed, they did not know how to blush.
Therefore they shall fall among those who fall;
at the time that I punish them, they shall be overthrown, says the LORD.
16 Thus says the LORD: Stand at the crossroads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. But they said, “We will not walk in it.”
17 Also I raised up sentinels for you: “Give heed to the sound of the trumpet!”
But they said, “We will not give heed.”
18 Therefore hear, O nations, and know, O congregation, what will happen to them.
19 Hear, O earth; I am going to bring disaster on this people,
the fruit of their schemes, because they have not given heed to my words;
and as for my teaching, they have rejected it.
20 Of what use to me is frankincense that comes from Sheba, or sweet cane from a distant land?
Your burnt offerings are not acceptable, nor are your sacrifices pleasing to me.
21 Therefore thus says the LORD:
See, I am laying before this people stumbling blocks against which they shall stumble;
parents and children together, neighbor and friend shall perish.

Apparently the reality that some people may be faithful church attenders while they live lives that are fundamentally out of touch with God’s desire for their lives is not a new reality. As Walter Brueggemann states:

In place of torah, Israel has substituted cultic action (Jer. 6:20-21): frankincense, cane, sacrifices. Israel has devised a form of religion that reflects affluence, which can be safely administered, and which brackets out all questions of obedience. (Brueggemann 1998, 73)

It is a nice, safe, easy religion that has allowed the people to slip into a sense of cultic complacency. So long as we have the temple and we keep bringing our offerings to God nothing will happen to us. This is the picture of gods that are common in the ancient world, that you bring pleasing offerings to the gods to entreat their favor and to get them fight for you in your battles, allow your crops to prosper, etc. But this is to fundamentally misunderstand the relationship God wants for God’s people.

It is not coincidence that the Old Testament prophets frequently rail against the sacrificial system (and Jesus also directly confronts the temple in his own day). The way things are will not continue indefinitely, God is speaking through the prophet. God is taking away the things that people have placed their trust in, and the temple and the priestly sacrificial system is one of these things.

August 19, 2017

God is In Control

A music video today; one that was filmed at a time when the criteria and expectations for music videos were not the same as today. Twila Paris (and her sister Starla, don’t you love the names?) grew up on a base of Youth With A Mission. Her own story is worth knowing.

This isn’t typical of songs in today’s modern worship environment, but I have reasons for including it here.

For one, the question of “Where is God when bad things happen?” along with “How can a loving God allow suffering?” continue to top the lists of theological questions asked by believers and non-believers alike.

A strong declaration that God is, indeed, in control is, in my opinion, as needful as the song that says “How Great is our God.”

But the skeptic will ask, “Is God in control of the details of individual lives, or is God simply overseeing the big picture?” Psalm 139 speaks of a God whose ‘micro’ focus is detailed to the point of seeing the ‘knitting together’ of the baby in its mother’s womb. God is the author of a big picture story, but the idea that “He’s got the whole world in His hands” — an equally viable, although somewhat dated expression of worship — simply by definition must extend to the ‘macro’ picture and the ‘micro’ picture.

God’s either in control of everything or He’s not in control of anything.

But here’s the question: What’s your definition of “control?”

This is no time for fear
This is a time for faith and determination
Don’t lose the vision here
Carried away by emotion
Hold on to all that you hide in your heart
There is one thing that has always been true
It holds the world together

God is in control
We believe that His children will not be forsaken
God is in control
We will choose the remember and never be shaken
There is no power above or beside Him, we know
God is in control

History marches on
There is a bottom line drawn across the ages
Culture can make its plan
Oh, but the line never changes
No matter how the deception may fly
There is one thing that has always been true
It will be true forever

God is in control….

Why start to worry now?
He is still the Lord of all we see
And He is still the loving Father
Watching over you and me

August 13, 2017

Mankind Worships That in Which He Sees Glory

This is the second post in our new series, Sunday Worship. In combing the internet looking for suitable material, we discovered the blog Ascents and this 2015 article. The phrase which forms the title of the post here is one that stood out. Truly, if we see the glory of God, we simply must and will worship.

Clicking the original title below will take you to the original article, which is always encouraged.

“Now” He is Glorified!

by Tim Adams

…Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him; (John 13:31, NASB95).

Why would Jesus make this statement at the moment Judas leaves to betray Him? Prior to His humiliation; just before being handed over to sinful men and made to stand trial. How is this moment glorifying?

Jesus, Son of Man, is about to become both the means and object of our worship, and the ball is now rolling downhill.  At this moment, events are being set in motion that will not only bring about the completion of Christ’s earthly ministry, and the redemption of man; but in just a short while Jesus will be shown to be exactly what He has claimed to be–what He has always been.  He will be shown to be God incarnate.  Soon Jesus will rend the veil, rise from the dead, and take His place at the right hand of the Father in heaven, becoming our perfect mediator by removing the barrier between us and God, (Heb. 12:2).

Mankind worships that in which he sees glory. Ancient Egyptians worshipped the sun because in it they saw glory.  Modern man worships his favorite sports figures because he sees glory in the display of dominating athletic prowess. Since the fall man has, as Romans 1 tells us, exchanged the glory of God for other objects of worship. He has chosen to see glory in that which was created, rather than his creator (Romans 1:22-25).

But, God has provided for us another way. It is a way in which we are made able to see God in Christ, the glorified Son of Man; and are made able to worship Him in the manner He is worthy of.  This way is the way of the cross.  Christ’s death on the cross is the single most important event to ever take place. It is the very fulcrum of world history. At the cross, what was a mystery has been made clear to those who have been changed by it.  And, in this cross of suffering–in the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, the Son of Man is truly glorified.

In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us. In all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory, (Ephesians 1:7–12, NASB95).

 

August 6, 2017

Sunday Worship

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Today we’re beginning something new at C201. Each Sunday when you come here you’ll see the same title, Sunday Worship, with an article or study which revolves around some aspect of that theme, which as most of you realize, involves much more than music.

NIV Genesis 14:17 After Abram returned from defeating Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him, the king of Sodom came out to meet him in the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley).

18 Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, 19 and he blessed Abram, saying,

“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
Creator of heaven and earth.
20 And praise be to God Most High,
who delivered your enemies into your hand.”

Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.

Melchizedek blesses Abram. Isn’t that the opposite of where we should be looking to consider worship? Isn’t worship about us blessing God through our worship?

I was drawn to this passage through a chapter in Rob Bell’s book, What is the Bible? I know Bell is controversial, but hear him out on this. He writes that Abraham has been promised that God is going to do a new thing through him. He begins a covenant with Abraham. Something that has not existed prior.

But then along comes “a priest of God Most High.” So there’s already a thing. An ongoing thing. A thing that’s been taking place long enough for there to be a priesthood. And even though we’re only 14 chapters in, the writer of Genesis assumes we get what that means. Long before the birth of Levi, there is already the notion of an ecclesiastic structure; within it a group that is set apart — by the designation priest — to serve in some capacity related to the sacrificial system which, in chapter 14, is just beginning. I think that’s Bell’s point.

So Melchizedek is part of that priestly class then, right?

Maybe not. Many believe that this is a theophany, a place where God himself breaks in and makes a post-Eden appearance. Perhaps even a Christophany, an Old-Testament appearance of the Son. (We’ve written on this subject a few months ago in this article.) Really, how can anyone ignore the mention of bread and wine in verse 18? So shouldn’t Abram fall on his face and worship Melchizedek? That’s what often happens in theophanies, where the term “the angel of the Lord” is used to describe the one making an appearance. Instead, Melchizedek blesses him.

So let’s instead go back to the idea that this priest is in every sense a human like us; the idea that there is a designated structure that involves a set apart, priestly class. We have a reference to him again in Psalm 110:4 and also in Hebrews. Who does he serve? What does he do?

Remember, by the time the book of Genesis is recorded, it’s a given that we know something of the meaning of the word priest. Part of the sacrificial system was to offer animals and the fruit of the land in hope of God’s blessing. But part of it was also as an act of thankfulness for blessings already received.  It meant honoring God’s place, God’s position, God’s status, God’s authority, God’s power, God’s involvement in the everyday, God’s predisposition to bless, God’s prerogative to withhold blessing. A calendar cycle would evolve which represented the intersection of God’s work and our lives.

There was a role for the priest in all of this, as overseer of that system. In facilitating that worship.

The people didn’t worship 24 hours a day. There were fields to cultivate, animals to feed and children to tend to. But where they set apart their time, they did so with the aid and direction of one set apart to lead. In other words, before the establishment of the singers, we could see the priests as worship leaders. Just not in the sense we use that term today.

But this priest “blessed Abram.” Is that backwards?

It depends how you were raised. In a Roman Catholic context, there’s nothing surprising about a priest blessing children or even blessing objects. If our modern day worship leaders are some type of parallel or equivalent, do they, in addition to facilitating God-directed worship, ever bless the assembled worshipers? Or does that tread into the murky territory of responding to God in hopes of receiving something in return; i.e. a blessing.

I want to raise the possibility then that Melchizedek is part of something larger, and something ongoing, and something that Abraham is going to be a part of, but in so doing, he is plugging into something long-established. Something that pre-dates the new thing God is doing with him. Some that has already been taking place…

…in heaven. That is to say beyond the time constraints of this earth. In eternity. We see visions of angelic worship in Revelation but that heavenly worship is, to use a common phrase today, a pre-existing condition. In other words it follows through in Revelation but it also precedes Genesis.

And the notion of being a “priest of God Most High” is an extension of what has already taken place in heaven, is already taking place in heaven, and will continue to take place in heaven: The worship of God.

 

 

August 2, 2017

Christianity is a Singing Faith

We’ve frequently mentioned, quoted and linked to Mark and Stephen Altrogge at Thinking Out Loud. This is his fifth time here at C201, but it’s been nearly 3 years.

Christianity is a singing faith. It sets us apart from many other belief systems. As an old hymn, noting God’s care and protection put it, “I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free.” Another hymn writer wished for “a thousand tongues to sing my great redeemer’s praise.” More recently, a popular worship writer wrote:

…We will sing, sing, sing
Grateful that You hear us
When we shout your praise
Lift high the name of Jesus.

Click the title below to read this at source. Though Mark and Stephen Altrogge and I are from different doctrinal streams, there usually isn’t an article on their blog, The Blazing Center that isn’t top-notch reading. This one is by Mark.

7 Reasons God Commands Us To Sing To Him

Have you ever wondered why God commands us to sing to him?

Does he need our songs somehow? Does he get some kind of sick pleasure out of commanding us to sing his praises?

First of all, God doesn’t need anything from us. He doesn’t need our worship or our songs or our money or our obedience. He is infinite and lacks nothing. Everything he commands us is for our joy and benefit. If God commands us to sing, then it is to bless us and add to our joy in him.

What are some reasons God commands us to sing?

First, we should sing to God because he saved us

We have so many incredible things to be thankful for and sing about – we’ve been forgiven, justified, and adopted as God’s own children and made joint-heirs with Christ. We’ve been rescued from eternal destruction. We’ve been given eternal life. Jesus SAVED us! That’s something to sing about. When God led Israel through the Red Sea with the Egyptians hot on their tail, then closed the sea over the Egyptians, and saved the Israelites from certain death, and the Israelites saw the chariots and horses washed up on the beach they began to sing and dance. Can you imagine them shrugging their shoulders and saying, “That’s nice”? No, they wrote a song for the occasion. And Jesus saved us from something far worse than death – God’s eternal wrath. How can we not sing and rejoice?

Secondly, we should sing because we are loved.

God’s love is too marvelous and amazing to simply talk about. Think of all the love songs people sing. If we sing love songs about our love for human beings, how much more should we sing songs to the One who so loved us he gave his Son for us? How much more should we sing to Jesus who bore the wrath of God to redeem us?

Third, we should sing because Jesus has filled us with joy.

Singing is an expression of joy. We sing for joy at birthdays, weddings, ballgames. God has given us unspeakable everlasting joy in Christ. We just have to sing about it. The kingdom of God is a kingdom of joy. Someday Jesus will wipe away every tear and sorrow and sadness will flee away. For all eternity we will celebrate the wedding feast of the Lamb. If earthly weddings have music and songs, how much more will the marriage supper of the Lamb?

Fourth, we should sing because Jesus sings over us

The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. Zeph 3.17

Jesus rejoices and exults over his people with loud singing. How can we not rejoice in our King and Savior?

Fifth, because singing is a wonderful way to meditate on the gospel

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. CO 3.16

Our songs should be filled with “the word of Christ” – the gospel. And as we sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to God, the gospel dwells in us richly. Singing usually involves repetition, rhyming and easily remembered phrases– it is a wonderful way to soak in and remember God’s truth.

Sixth, singing allows us to express our emotions to God in a way we couldn’t by mere talking.

What an incredible gift from God music is. How much color, joy and depth it adds to our lives. The band Cream sang a song called “I’m So Glad” in which they sang, “I’m so glad, I’m so glad, I’m glad, I’m glad, I’m glad!” (I know, not the most creative lyrics in the world). But it just wouldn’t be the same to merely speak these words. When you’re really happy you want to sing.

Seven, when we sing and rejoice in our God it honors him.

Shout for joy to God, all the earth;
sing the glory of his name;
give to him glorious praise!
Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds!
So great is your power that your enemies come cringing to you.
All the earth worships you
and sings praises to you;
they sing praises to your name.” Ps 66:1-4

Singing is a way for us to glorify God – to “sing the glory of his name.” God created and saved us and gave us gifts, talents, intelligence, minds and bodies that we might glorify him. Not only are we to seek to glorify him by our lives, but with our tongues. And singing is such an easy way to glorify Jesus! It’s not like when we glorify him by suffering for him. How hard is it to sing?

Our God is so great, and so good and so glorious, he’s worthy of all of our praise. And one of the easiest ways to praise him is by singing. Let’s “sing the glory of his name!”

July 18, 2017

Would You Speak What You Sing?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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Sometimes a comment left at our other blog leads us to articles which would fit here at C201. That was the case with Lisa Stepanian who blogs at The Burning Lamp (theburninglamp.com) You can read this article there by clicking the title below and then take some time to check out other things she’s written.

Worshiping in the Boat

“Then those who were in the boat worshiped Him saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God’.” Matthew 14:33

In this passage, Jesus had walked upon the water as the disciples in the boat fought a raging storm in the dark. Jesus walked on water? Reigned with power and authority over the forces of ‘nature’? Certainly, yes He did.

But the disciples ‘worshiped on the boat’ – without strobe lights, fog machines, tuned instruments or perfected choir? How is that possible?

Jesus said,

“But the time is coming–indeed it’s here now–when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.” John 4:23-24

God almighty is seeking, looking for, those who will worship in spirit and in truth?   I want Him to find what He’s looking for in me!

I want the boat worship. I want to receive Jesus, acknowledging His power and authority, and meditate on His divine accomplishment on the cross. I want to be led into worshiping the Father in spirit and in truth.

“Christians are guilty of telling more lies to God on Sundays than on any other day….Because it is on Sundays that they sing so many hymns such as, “All to Jesus I surrender”… excerpt, Zac Poonen,  God-Centred Prayer

Human talent, resource, and technology has made ‘worship’ a business…

Are we attempting to ‘conjure up’ the presence of God?

Many church goers are satisfied with entertaining ‘performance worship’. The emotional appeasement is uplifting, encouraging and even medicinal. But is that anything like the worship in the boat?

But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. 1 Corinthians 11:31

I am searching my own heart, asking…

1. Would I sincerely take the words of the songs I am singing and speak them during prayer time to the Lord? Do I have a prayer time to meet with the Lord?

2. Is the music and song or the ‘atmosphere’ engaging my flesh with rhythm and tempo or are songs drawing me into scriptural truths?

3. Am I engaging in something contrived and artificial?

4. Is worship (adornment, deep honor and reverence) already in my heart before I gather with others or is the gathering working up a group cheer for God?

5. Can I sing the songs, even sing the Psalms, during dark storms –  when my circumstances have horribly changed  – with assurance that God has not changed?

There is value in presenting God our best praise and thanksgiving, especially that unbelievers may see that our God is worthy of all exuberant praise.  But lowly fishermen did not rehearse worship to get it right or impress in any way. The presence of God brought them to their knees, their hearts prostrate, filled with awe.

If Jesus walked into our home during our prayer time (or anytime) we would not pull out a guitar, flash vibrant lights nor would we sway and bop. We would fall to our knees with the weight of our nothingness next to His sovereignty. We would worship.

“Lord in heaven, I do want to worship You in spirit and in truth. Help me to understand what that simply means. Help me to wait on You, even if I must stroke the oars through a dark storm. Give us all a true anticipation of Your presence and prepare our hearts to bow down to You. More than anything Father, I want You to find what You’re looking for in me. In Jesus name, amen”.

May the Lord personally bless you!


Starting Sunday, August 6th, we’re launching a weekly feature at C201 called Sunday Worship. If you see something online you think would be a good fit for that theme, please contact us.

June 2, 2017

The Difference Between Singing Songs and Singing to the Lord

Today we’re back with Susan Barnes at A Book Look. In addition to book reviews, she’s currently blogging some devotional thoughts on the book of 2 Chronicles. As we did last year, we’re giving you a two-for-one special, with another devotional on another subject! Click the titles to read the individual devotions, or for more click this link, and look for the articles headed “Devotional Thought.”

Devotional Thought: II Chronicles 5:13

The trumpeters and musicians joined in unison to give praise and thanks to the Lord. Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals and other instruments, the singers raised their voices in praise to the Lord and sang: “He is good; his love endures forever.” Then the temple of the Lord was filled with the cloud. 2 Chronicles 5:13

I’ve met some Christians who don’t like to sing, which has puzzled me greatly. Some even want to have gatherings where there is no singing.

However, the Bible contains a good deal of singing. The longest book in the Bible, Psalms, is a song book. When it was first put together many would have memorized it, because they sang it. I once thought this was amazing, until I considered that I probably know 150 songs by heart.

There is a major difference between singing songs and singing to the Lord. I hope those who don’t like to sing are those who think they are just singing songs.

In this verse we have an example of singing to the Lord. As their songs of praise rose from the temple, God’s presence filled it. We experience God’s presence when we lift up his name with praise, music and song. This is not always consciously felt, but we know that God inhabits the praises of his people (Psalm 22:3 KJV).

Singing to the Lord, focuses our attention on God and changes our perspective. When we consider God’s love and his almightiness, our difficulties shrink, our complaints fade and our worries diminish. It is a spiritual discipline to call to mind God’s attributes and to express them to him. It builds up our faith and honours the Lord.

We aren’t going to like every Christian song we sing, nevertheless, let’s use songs as vehicles to focus on the Lord.


Devotional Thought: I Chronicles 29:22

They ate and drank with great joy in the presence of the Lord that day. 1 Chronicles 29:22

Such joy in this chapter and David wanted it to go on forever – he prayed: “Lord, the God of our fathers Abraham, Isaac and Israel, keep these desires and thoughts in the hearts of your people forever, and keep their hearts loyal to you. And give my son Solomon the wholehearted devotion to keep your commands, statutes and decrees and to do everything to build the palatial structure for which I have provided” (v. 18-19)

David prayed that God would keep the people’s hearts loyal to himself, but it didn’t happen. He prayed that Solomon would have wholehearted devotion to keep God’s commands but that didn’t happen either.

God doesn’t override free will. We choose the desires and thoughts we keep in our hearts, we choose to be loyal or not, and we choose our level of devotion. God doesn’t take our choices from us.

Perhaps Paul’s prayer in Colossians 1:9-11 is a better model. He prays for the Colossians to be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in order to live a life pleasing to him, to grow in the knowledge of God and to be strengthened so they may have great endurance and patience. Paul saw the Colossians’ greatest necessity as continually growing in understanding God and his ways, and to have perseverance.

Even then, the Colossians would still have to choose. Christian leaders can provide opportunities for growth and recommend spiritual disciplines to encourage growth, but ultimately it’s our decision if we engage in these practices.

Perseverance is part of the growth process, and seems to be sadly lacking in David’s time. However, the ability to keep going when things get difficult will greatly enhance our spiritual lives.

April 28, 2017

Benedictions and Blessings

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:37 pm
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This is a topic that came up in a discussion earlier in the week. At FaithAndWorship.com we read:

The tradition of a blessing or benediction as part of an act of worship has been a part of Jewish worship for generations, and we can trace it back to the book of Numbers where Aaron and his sons bless the Israelites with this blessing :

“The Lord bless you
and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you
and give you peace. ”
(Numbers 6:24-26)

Interestingly this is apparently the oldest known Biblical text that has been found; amulets with these verses written on them have been found in graves in dating from the First Temple Period, and are now in the Israel Museum, Jerusalem.

At Benediction.net we’re informed that

It is pronouncement of divine blessing given in the Bible. It represents a joyful, unifying call to faith, patience, and practice for the faithful, based on the Certainty, divine Principle, God.

A benediction is a short, concise statement given in the Bible in the form of a petition, an assurance, a promise or principle. It voices images of protection, or comfort, or abundance, or some other word of assurance.

The word benediction means to say good, to voice good thoughts, to pronounce. What makes good thoughts good is that they are based on Truth, based on Principle, God. Whatever is true fulfills itself. Good is the inevitable result of the certainty and righteousness of Truth, God, who is all good.

The reading aloud of a benediction at the conclusion of a church service is joy expressed, and cherished, and shared with the all in its hearing. It is a feast.

They also list a number of Biblical benedictions. In fairness, I’m not going to reproduce all of them, but here’s about half:

1. The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul. The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore. Psalms 121:7,8

2. Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost. Romans 15:13

3. Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus: That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 15:5,6

4. The Lord will give strength unto his people; the Lord will bless his people with peace. Psalms 29:11

5. Now God himself and our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way unto you. And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you; to the end he may stablish your heart unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints.   I Thessalonians 3:11-13

6. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.  Philippians 4:7

7. God shall supply all you need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus. Now unto God and our Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.   Philippians 4:19,20

8. The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen. Philippians 4.23

9. Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord, According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue. II Peter 1:2,3

10. Blessed be the Lord for evermore. Amen and Amen. Psalms 89:52

11. Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.   Jude 1:24,25

12. Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well-pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. Hebrews 13:20,21

Jumping back to our first source, Benedictions and Blessings offers some contemporary alternatives; again here are about half of them:

May God the Father
prepare your journey,
Jesus the Son
guide your footsteps,
The Spirit of Life
strengthen your body,
The Three in One
watch over you,
on every road
that you may follow.

May the peace of God enfold us,
The love of God uphold us,
The wisdom of God control us.

Let the majesty of the Father
be the light by which you walk,
the compassion of the Son
be the love by which you walk,
the presence of the Spirit
be the power by which you walk.
The love of God be the passion
in your heart.
The joy of God your strength
when times are hard .
The presence of God a peace
that overflows.
The Word of God the seed
that you might sow.

Perhaps the next time you feel an impulse to say, “God bless you” to someone, you might want to refine that, to speak into their lives particular things and particular areas where they might see that blessing take place. Think of it as praying over them, and make that prayer specific.

…Today’s devotional has ended. Go in peace!

October 14, 2016

Searching for the Better Life

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Now Adam had sexual relations with his wife, Eve, and she became pregnant. When she gave birth to Cain, she said, “With the Lord’s help, I have produced a man!” Later she gave birth to his brother and named him Abel.

When they grew up, Abel became a shepherd, while Cain cultivated the ground. When it was time for the harvest, Cain presented some of his crops as a gift to the Lord. Abel also brought a gift—the best portions of the firstborn lambs from his flock. The Lord accepted Abel and his gift, but he did not accept Cain and his gift. This made Cain very angry, and he looked dejected

…continue reading the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4

Today we pay a return visit to Neal Pollard who is in pastoral ministry in Colorado. Click the title below to read at Preacher Pollard’s Blog.

Better Living 

We find ourselves often bobbing in a sea of religious confusion. Many groups claim to be the best religion and point to their ingredients as reasons for such claims. Several years ago, our boys played basketball in a league hosted by a huge community church in the Denver area.  Their church’s campus includes a K-12 school, two restaurants, a gymnasium half the size of our church building, a coffee shop, and a hundred social program. Other groups would make their claim as “better” or “best” based on their numeric size, the number of programs they have, or how socially active they are.

Our religious attitude ought to be one of humility, which does not boast of our achievements or compare ourselves with others (cf. 2 Cor. 10:12).  Genesis 4 is not just about two kinds of worship, but also about two ways of living life. Cain is mentioned by three Bible writers after Moses introduces him in Genesis. The writer of Hebrews calls Abel’s offering more excellent than his (Heb. 11:4). John calls Cain’s works evil and his allegiance “of the wicked one” (1 Jo. 3:12). Jude implies that the way of Cain is the wrong way to go (11). Let’s make a few brief observations from Genesis four and see if we can find the elements which make for a better way of living today.

  • BETTER LIVING IS NOT DETERMINED BY AGE (1-2).  By birth order, Cain came first. He was the first person to be born in the natural order of childbirth. He was the very first newborn to be held in his mama’s arms. She didn’t realize that her cooing, sweet infant was a future murderer, and she was proud of him. She called him “a man child with the help of the Lord.” This depicts such a bright, optimistic future, and by contrast Scripture says, “Again, she gave birth to his brother, Abel” (2). Abel began in his brother’s shadow, first known to us as “his (Cain’s) brother.”
  • BETTER LIVING IS NOT DETERMINED BY OCCUPATION (2). When we look at these brothers, what they did for a living was not the determiner of the quality of their lives. While what they did had an indirect bearing on the events of this account, the fact of their occupation was spiritually neutral—Cain farmed and Abel tended sheep. One can reap blessings from tilling the ground (Heb. 6:7), but they may have to fight thorns, thistles, and weeds doing it (Gen. 3:18-19). Tending sheep may be done by slaves (Luke 17:17), kings (1 Sam. 17:34), or apostles (John 21:17). God’s pleasure or displeasure was not connected to either’s occupation.
  • BETTER LIVING IS DETERMINED BY WORSHIP (3-4). Moses says both brought an offering to the Lord. He also says God responded to bother offerings, accepting one and rejecting the other. That very notion is foreign to many people in our society today, even those in religion. Many make worship nothing more than taste, preference, and personal inclination. But, Moses shows us (1) Not all worship is equal: God had regard for Abel’s, but not Cain’s. The words “had respect to” signify in Hebrew to look at something with a very serious glance. God tells us how He wants worship done, in attitude and action; (2) The worshipper and the worship rise and fall together: God had regard for Abel AND his offering and did not for Cain AND his offering. That’s a sober reminder for me that my personal relationship with God is hindered or helped based on the way I worship God. Can I offer God vain and ignorant worship, and have God reject it but accept me? We are not earning God’s favor by getting worship right. At the same time, are we tempting God and hoping we stay in His favor while disobeying His commands for worship? People have tried to make this an “either-or” proposition, that Cain and Abel’s offering was either about getting the worship right or was about the nature of the person offering the worship. In other words, is it sincerity or obedience, our both sincerity and obedience? To thoughtfully ask the question is to answer it!
  • BETTER LIVING IS DETERMINED BY ATTITUDE (5-7). Cain reacts to having himself and his worship rejected by God by burning with anger and his face taking on an ugly look. He sounds like a small child in the throes of a tantrum or a teenager huffing and sulking in anger. God warns Cain of the recipe for disaster he was making through his attitude. He told Cain that his tempestuous attitude was an invitation for sin to pounce on him, but He told him he could master it! You can have a positive attitude without prosperity, education, or earthly success, but you cannot have a positive attitude without mastering self.
  • BETTER LIVING IS DETERMINED BY ACTION (8-16). Improper worship and attitude preceded and precipitated improper action. The first time “sin” is used (Gen. 4:7), God was looking ahead with perfect foresight to what Cain would do to his brother. He does the unthinkable, killing his own brother (cf. 1 Jo. 3:11-15). His deeds and ways were a recipe for disaster: He is rebuked by God, punished by God, and separated from God. Sin promises a good time and fulfillment, but it’s not true.

It’s been said that the lineage of Cain gave us murder, cities, polygamy, musicians, metal workers and poetry, but not one who walked with God! Thanks to his legacy, a descendant repeats his violent ways (Gen. 4:23). Abel seems to leave no physical lineage, but he still speaks after death. His was a life of faith, generosity, good works, righteousness, and obedience. We get to choose the kind of life we want to pursue. If we choose well, we will be satisfied, others will be blessed, and God will be pleased.

 

 

 

May 9, 2016

Psalms: The Missing Jewel in the Modern Church

Psalm 1:1 Blessed is the one
    who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
    or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
    which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
    whatever they do prospers.

While certain types of prayer and praise rate high with some, I believe that God is happy just to have us commune with him. That includes expressing our angst, our frustrations, our deep longings.

Today’s post includes some excerpts from an article by worship songwriter Graham Kendrick. For a better experience of these thoughts, you are encouraged to click the title below. The site is also a wealth of songs Graham has written.

Psalms – The missing Jewel of the Worshipping Church?

graham kendrickIt was several decades ago that A. W. Tozer described worship as the ‘missing jewel of the evangelical church’. It was one of the messages that helped to fuel an embryonic worship movement that has since transformed the way millions worship across the world. I hope the late great man will forgive me for adapting his words for today to read: Psalms – the missing jewel of the worshipping church.

I have read them regularly, composed songs from them, and spontaneously sung them straight from the page for many years, but even so I think I am only just beginning to wake up to their immense power and significance. I love to open up a good commentary and learn about them from a scholar, but something remarkable starts to happen when I open up my mouth and wrap my lips, tongue and heart around the words and pray them aloud…

…One of the strongest arguments for using the Psalms is both simple and profound – it was what Jesus did. The Psalms were Jesus’ prayer book, songbook and meditation manual, and if he needed them how much more do we? …

Kendrick then explains the absence of The Psalms as owing to the current state of worship:

The vital place of the psalms to our spiritual ancestors is beyond question, so why are they sidelined today? There are many historical reasons I am sure, but one very contemporary one is that our media-intensive culture moulds us as spectators rather than participants, looking to screens, stages and platforms to be ‘done to’ and spoon-fed experience rather than learning how to nourish our own spiritual lives. In this atmosphere many Christians have become ‘event-dependant’ and have little idea how to sustain themselves between ‘fixes’. Those who have the job of providing the ‘spectacle’ week by week become exhausted under the demands.

There are many songs today that give us an excellent language for expressing our personal love and thanks to God but the Psalms also give us a language for anger, for frustration that the world is not as it should be, for protesting against injustice and for lamenting the tragedies that we see around us, and a language of hope for the future. We need to rediscover some of this language in our worship today – that allows the Christian community to grieve, protest, lament, and anticipate God’s final victory…

But then he suggests one practical way we can experience the Psalms. In this section he quotes Eugene Peterson who references Isaiah 31; the word usage in the first section is important here:

This is what the Lord says to me:

“As a lion growls,
    a great lion over its prey—
and though a whole band of shepherds
    is called together against it,
it is not frightened by their shouts
    or disturbed by their clamor—
so the Lord Almighty will come down
    to do battle on Mount Zion and on its heights.

Kendrick writes:

How do we pray the psalms? One of the best ways is simply to read them out loud, but not in a detached, cerebral way. The book of Psalms begins with a promise that the person who meditates in the law of the Lord is like ‘a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.’ That is quite a promise. Meditation sounds like a purely mental activity, but according to Eugene Peterson:

“Meditate [hagah] is a bodily action; it involves murmuring and mumbling words, taking a kind of physical pleasure in making the sounds of the words, getting the feel of the meaning as the syllables are shaped by larynx and tongue and lips. Isaiah uses this word ‘meditate‘ for the sounds that a lion makes over its prey [Isaiah 31:4].” [Eugene Peterson, Answering God]

The Psalms spring to life when we engage with them physically – try it!

Again this is about half of the article; click the title to see it all.

Something more to think about:

Graham Kendrick concludes the full article with this observation:

Jonah’s Psalm-like prayer in the belly of the whale [Jonah 2:2-9] was not original, its component parts can be traced back to at least 10 sources in the Psalms. He had been to ‘Psalm-school’, worked out at ‘Psalm-gym’ and so in a moment of desperation, he had a vocabulary of prayer to draw upon.

 

November 22, 2015

Worship With Authenticity

A church we visited a few years ago incorporates a rather bizarre mixture of informality and tradition. By that I don’t mean that they blend contemporary and liturgical forms; no, that would be welcome. Instead, there is a very specific order of worship from which there has never — in the last 15 years — been and possibly never will be any significant variance.

One expects there to be a distinction between a “contemporary” church and a “liturgical” church, but in practice, many modern churches have a rather strict liturgy that simply exists in unwritten form.

It’s most evident in the arrangement of the worship songs which always consists of:

  • two songs at the beginning
  • three songs in the middle
  • one song at the end, which must be an upbeat song of celebration, not the more contemplative type of piece you might get after the sermon in other churches.

Some of the worship songs can be engaging and give voice to the worship inside of you that you are longing to give back to God; but once you know the formula, it’s really like trying to put your worship in a box, when in your spirit you know it’s longing to break free.

Furthermore, in the middle set, just as the spirit of the worship may begin to be really moving, it’s time to sit down again. Week after week, it’s the same;

  • two songs at the beginning
  • three songs in the middle
  • one song at the end

If we look at I Corinthians 14, we see a picture of the early church that incorporates orderliness and spontaneity. It’s hard to imagine the enactment of something so formulaic, let alone the mentality that would even want to suggest such a thing.

In verse 26, we see worship originating in a variety of contributors, a kind of melting pot of ingredients that many of the house church proponents are quick to note works well in that setting:

26 So here’s what I want you to do. When you gather for worship, each one of you be prepared with something that will be useful for all: Sing a hymn, teach a lesson, tell a story, lead a prayer, provide an insight. (The Message)

26 Well, my brothers and sisters, let’s summarize. When you meet together, one will sing, another will teach, another will tell some special revelation God has given, one will speak in tongues, and another will interpret what is said. But everything that is done must strengthen all of you. (New Living Translation)

However, in verses 33 and 40 we’re reminded:

33 For God is not a God of disorder but of peace. (New International Version)

33 When we worship the right way, God doesn’t stir us up into confusion; he brings us into harmony. (The Message)

40 But let everything be done in a right and orderly way. (New Century Version)

While their available worship repertoire back then was probably much more limited than ours is today, I believe they sang their hearts out. Some of the songs were probably celebratory, but at other times, when they paused to remember Christ’s broken body and shed blood, I’m sure they sang softly and reverently. At times, I’m sure they sang until their voices gave out.

There were probably a number of spiritual and cultural parameters that were different in their day than ours, but I think if those early Christians could somehow time-travel to our era, they would be both amazed and appalled by the 2-3-1 worship ritual.

I think that those set apart for worship planning and execution have to frequently ask the WWECD question: What Would the Early Church Do?


Follow up: On a more recent visit, I was glad to see that their format is now being shaken up a little. It took nearly 20 years, but at least it’s being challenged somewhat.

Comparative subject: Like so many issues in our churches, there is a balance to be had here. Consider the difference between extemporaneous prayers and written prayers. I much prefer prayers that sound authentic and heartfelt, but sometimes the people doing so seem to rambling in search of content; I believe the Evangelical term is “winging it!” Pre-written prayers at least have solid content and thought has gone into them.

November 11, 2015

gods Forget GOD

by Clarke Dixon (click here to read at source)

We have a prosperity problem. Prosperity causes us to forget God. We intuitively feel this in Canada as our relative affluence seems to be related to our religious apathy. Scripture seems to point this out also:

12 When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, 13 and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, 14 then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God. (Deuteronomy 8:12-14 emphasis mine)

This being the case, perhaps we should be praying for a downturn of the economy? If, as we Christians believe, there is nothing as important as one’s relationship with God, then perhaps more misery might make many souls merry?

Or is prosperity really the problem? Let’s take a look at those verses again, but let me move the highlighting:

12 When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, 13 and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, 14 then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God. (Deuteronomy 8:12-14 emphasis mine)

Or as another translation puts it, “your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God”  (NIV). We do not have a prosperity problem. We have a heart problem. Proud hearts are prone to forgetting God.

The heart problem was to be the heart of the problem for God’s people as they entered the Promised Land. Things would be better for them, this is the land flowing with milk and honey after all. But in prosperity and all that has been achieved would be the danger of self-congratulations:

. . . then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, 15 who led you through the great and terrible wilderness, an arid wasteland with poisonous snakes and scorpions. He made water flow for you from flint rock, 16 and fed you in the wilderness with manna that your ancestors did not know, to humble you and to test you, and in the end to do you good. 17 Do not say to yourself, “My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.” 18 But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, so that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your ancestors, as he is doing today. (Deuteronomy 8:14-18 emphasis mine)

We are prone to being self-congratulatory. We are prone to wanting the glory. Just look at all we have achieved. A great team of men and women worked hard to put a man on the moon. We might ask who should get the MVP award for making such an achievement possible. Who deserves the most glory? The astronauts? The scientists? The technicians? The taxpayers? And in deliberating the question we forget that God put the moon there in the first place, not to mention the earth, not to mention the materials in the earth fit for building a spacecraft, not to mention the rules of physics, not to mention the potential of the human mind to dream, and the capacity of human hands to create. Even in the greatest of human achievements, God deserves glory.

As humans we have great potential. Yet we do nothing without God’s gift of potential. We innovate. But we do not innovate without God. We succeed and achieve. But we do not succeed and achieve without God. We live. But we do not live without God. We love. But we do not love without God. To God belongs the glory.

Deuteronomy chapter eight does not leave us without an antidote to our forgetfulness. Though some translations take verse ten as concluding verses 1-9, I think the NIV gets it correct with putting it with what follows:

10 When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. 11 Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, . . .  (Deuteronomy 8:10-11 NIV emphasis mine)

Praise is the cure for forgetfulness. It is in praising God that our hearts are humbled. It is in praising God that our hearts are filled with the wonders of God. It is in praising God that we recognize where the glory truly belongs.

Praise keeps us from stealing God’s glory. Even in matters of salvation we are prone to wanting to steal God’s glory. We think we can be good enough that God will have to accept us. “Yes, He is holy, but I can be holy too.” Actually no. We can no more be good enough before God based on our own righteousness than the Israelites could cross the Red Sea on dry ground by their own miracle working. We depend on God’s grace, God’s work of salvation through Jesus Christ. We cannot steal God’s glory.

So do we have a prosperity problem? We have a heart problem. It is in trying to be gods, we forget GOD. If we have no appetite for God, perhaps it is not that we have too much stuff, so much as we have stuffed ourselves with too much of our own glory.

Not to us, Lord, not to us
but to your name be the glory,
because of your love and faithfulness.
(Psalms 115:1 NIV)

All Bible references are from the NRSV unless otherwise noted.

 

October 25, 2015

Best Choir Ever

Largest Choir Ever

While I owe much of my spiritual nurture to Contemporary Christian Music, I also can be awestruck by a choir. Some choir music is characterized by powerful high energy, and other types are characterized by the beauty of rich harmony.

You may not — especially if you’re a guy — get excited about the sung worship time at your church, but music and the capital-C Church are inseparable. Christianity is a singing faith; something that traces back to our Jewish origins.

This morning I heard a sermon on Nehemiah 12, as the nation celebrates the rebuilding of the Jerusalem wall:

27 At the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem, the Levites were sought out from where they lived and were brought to Jerusalem to celebrate joyfully the dedication with songs of thanksgiving and with the music of cymbals, harps and lyres.

31 I had the leaders of Judah go up on top of the wall. I also assigned two large choirs to give thanks. One was to proceed on top of the wall to the right

38 The second choir proceeded in the opposite direction…

40 The two choirs that gave thanks then took their places in the house of God; so did I, together with half the officials, 

42b … The choirs sang under the direction of Jezrahiah. 43 And on that day they offered great sacrifices, rejoicing because God had given them great joy. The women and children also rejoiced. The sound of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard far away.

45 They performed the service of their God and the service of purification, as did also the musicians and gatekeepers, according to the commands of David and his son Solomon. 46 For long ago, in the days of David and Asaph, there had been directors for the musicians and for the songs of praise and thanksgiving to God. 47 So in the days of Zerubbabel and of Nehemiah, all Israel contributed the daily portions for the musicians and the gatekeepers. They also set aside the portion for the other Levites, and the Levites set aside the portion for the descendants of Aaron.

I would love to have heard the sound of these dual choirs performing opposite each other. This was long before the combined choir music sung in European cathedrals, and I must add long before HD sound, SurroundSound, or even Quadraphonic Stereo. I’m sure people went back to their homes saying, ‘Best. Worship. Ever.’

I know it can’t compare to the heavenly worship described in the book of Revelation, in which we will all some day participate, but it must have ranked among the most amazing sounds ever heard on earth.

I think it’s interesting that verse 47 tells us that the musicians were set apart for this purpose. If some or all of their material needs were supplied it could mean that they did not need other employment, or were at the very least bi-vocational. There was no doubt a certain level of technical competence among those chosen for this particular task. I have dabbled in music all my life, and at times earned income doing so, but I still wonder if would make it into Zerubbabel’s band or Nehemiah’s vocal team. I’m not saying they had auditions, but I think only the best made the cut to serve in this particular way.

How do we recreate the same type of musical moment? The challenge today for us is to similarly find ways to raise “the song of the Lord” in the marketplace, but sometimes the public square is not available — literally or figuratively — for the church to rent.

Beside the rivers of Babylon, we sat and wept as we thought of Jerusalem. We put away our lyres, hanging them on the branches of the willow trees. For there our captors demanded a song of us. Our tormentors requested a joyful hymn: “Sing us one of those songs of Jerusalem!” But how can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land?

Psalm 137: 1-4 NLT

This psalm provides us some info we don’t get from other histories in scripture, and the people of God were being asked to sing, when their captivity made it hard to form a song on the lips.

We aren’t in captivity right now as much as we are moving toward a period of cultural and political exile. Christianity doesn’t have the pull that it once had. But our challenge is similar: How do raise the Lord’s song in an increasingly hostile environment?


Photo:At least in terms of size, the choir pictured above is taken from a YouTube video frame posted by the Guiness Book of Records on October 15th, 2015 of the largest gospel choir consisting of 8688 participants of the Members Church of God International (Philippines) at the Araneta Coliseum, Manila, Philippines just days earlier. Click the image to watch the video.

 

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