Looking Back to Look Ahead | A Reflection for the Season of Advent

“In Advent we hear the prophecies of the Messiah’s coming as addressed to us— people who wait for the second coming. In Advent we heighten our anticipation for the ultimate fulfillment of all Old Testament promises, when the wolf will lie down with the lamb, death will be swallowed up, and every tear will be wiped away. In this way Advent highlights for us the larger story of God’s redemptive plan.”  -The Worship Sourcebook

The season of Advent marks the beginning of the church calendar year. The four weeks leading up to Christmas we have the opportunity to take some time preparing for Christmas. In a week we will celebrate Christmas Eve, the night where we remember the promised messiah that Old Testaments prophets were longing for had finally arrived in the person of Jesus. Fully God and Fully man. We will spend time thinking about the nativity scene but our vision of Jesus can’t stop there. One of the things that we can remind ourselves of in this season is that Advent is not simply an opportunity to look back- but rather, an opportunity to look forward. This is a common theme that we see in scripture and so lets take a moment to look even further back in scripture.

The story of the crossing of the Jordan takes place in chapters 3 and 4 of Joshua. The people have prepared to enter into Canaan, and the only thing that lay between them and promised land was the Jordan River. The priests carried the Ark of the Covenant into the flooded Jordan and as they did this, the waters stopped flowing. The people crossed over dry land and after they had all crossed, the river began once to flow again. Once more, God delivered His people through a crossing! I will pick up this story in chapter 4:

When all the nation had finished passing over the Jordan, the LORD said to Joshua, “Take twelve men from the people, from each tribe a man, 3 and command them, saying, ‘Take twelve stones from here out of the midst of the Jordan, from the very place where the priests’ feet stood firmly, and bring them over with you and lay them down in the place where you lodge tonight.’” Then Joshua called the twelve men from the people of Israel, whom he had appointed, a man from each tribe. And Joshua said to them, “Pass on before the ark of the LORD your God into the midst of the Jordan, and take up each of you a stone upon his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the people of Israel, that this may be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD. When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever.”

Three years ago while Sara and I were in Ecuador, at the end of each day we would take the students down to a nice cool swim in the river-­‐ it served as a refreshing reward at the end of a day of hard work-­‐ it was this beautiful flow of clear cold mountain water that flowed through the warm and humid jungle village. Along the side of the river bank were these massive rocks-­‐ on one particular afternoon we started taking the rocks and built them up in a similar fashion as described here in Joshua 4. You can see that we got really nice picture of the finished product-­‐ which was taken just moments before one of the little Ecuadorian boys went and destroyed what we had built. This story doesn’t quite align with the story in Joshua 4. We weren’t intentionally building a monument to God in thanks to what he had done-­‐ the point that I want to make is even though those stones were only aligned like that for a brief moment-­‐ I am still able to vividly recall the context in which they were built. And they do serve, as a reminder to me of seeing God at work-­‐ and it becomes my responsibility to share that with others, and to not let that become a stale, dry memory. If we are not careful, these events can become simply a memorial to a long past event and the stones become simply a cold, lifeless monument to the past. We are thousands of years past the point of this moment in Joshua.

This monument of stones no longer exists, but we can still be reminded of their significance through the reading of God’s word and through connecting these moments of God’s faithfulness throughout salvation history. This pile of stones was to be that anchor of faith, a reference point for later times when the path ahead wouldn’t be as clear-­‐ so that when we look back to these traditions of the faith, we might be propelled into the future. A future that although uncertain, we can face because we have these anchors of faith behind us, plotting our course and giving us hope for the future. To simply look back and observe without participating, would be to establish a museum of worship, where we observe rather than engage. The hope is that as a community we would engage and participate. Swiss theologian Jean-­‐Jacques von Allmen says in Worship: It’s Theology and Practice:

“When we perform Christian worship, we are part of the Church of all places and all times, and this community binds us. To respect liturgical tradition implies…a feeling of gratitude for what God has taught the Church in the past, for the way in which He has inspired and guided it. That is why there exist in Christian worship and its unfolding certain classical forms which have…such a theological and anthropological plenitude, are of such monumental liturgical importance, that the Church never exhausts their vitality, never wears them out, in spite of constant use” (97).

And so it is our desire that our in this Christmas season, that we will look back at the fulfilled promises of God, for the sake of continuing to move forward! Our worship should continually help us in rehearsing the rhythms of the Gospel, as we sing together, confess our sins, are assured of our salvation through the work of Christ on the cross. As we taste the Gospel through the breaking of bread at the Lord’s Table, we are being prepared to go out from our places of worship better equipped to face the trials that come to us in this life.

We can look back at the faithfulness of God throughout the generations. With all this we are being called to remember not for the sake of simply remembering, but to take a step of faith as a community of believers into the community to which God has called us to serve. In a play you don’t rehearse simply for sake of rehearsing. You rehearse to perform it for the public. Similarly we don’t rehearse the Gospel simply for the sake of remembering or even simply for the sake of the edification of our worshipping community. We rehearse the Gospel here, so that we might be able to live it out in our homes, neighborhoods, and places of work.

Learning to See

At this year’s Global Leadership Summit, Ed Catmull, President of Pixar and Disney Animation said something that really resonated with me, and I think to some extent it shares the heart behind how I think about worship.

When asked about the purpose behind art, Catmull responded:

‘Art isn’t about drawing- it’s about learning to see.’

That’s how I like to think about worship- it’s not just about singing, it’s not just about hearing a sermon. It’s about learning to see.

It’s about learning to the see the world through the eyes of God. It’s about learning to see God as the creator of all things. It’s about learning to see ourselves as his creation. Learning to see our imperfections, our failures, and our sin- and seeing a God who loves us and forgives through the sacrifice of Christ.

Music has always been outlet for me to express myself, but especially as a high school student- I found that a lot of my understanding of who God is, was learned through the lyrics of a hymn or worship song.

For me, that reality makes every moment that we gather together critical- the words that we sing teach. The scripture, the sermon, the prayers- all are formative and help to shape the way in which we see.

It’s my hope and prayer that week in and week out our worship services will remind us that we as humanity have a great need- and that need is met in Christ Jesus.

Song of the Servant

The paradigm of the servant begins in Isaiah 42, where Isaiah introduces the chosen servant of the Lord. The mission of this servant, is established and reinforced three times in the first four verses of chapter 42, which is bring forth justice to the land. In chapter 49, he calls the servant Israel, which indicates to an extent that this servant embodies God’s expectations for His people. The overall purpose and mission is established, as well as the reality that this servant is to be the paradigm of all Israel, it is at this point where the role of servant becomes much more difficult with the call to obedience and the call to suffer. Isaiah 50 depicts a servant who remains obedient, in the midst of Israel’s sin and Isaiah 53 describes the servant suffering for the sake of others.

This brief survey of Isaiah’s prophecy regarding the servant defines four characteristics within the paradigm of the servant, the mission, relation to the people, obedience, and suffering. With these categories in mind, the question that is most natural to ask, is who is Isaiah referring to in his prophecy of the servant? The answer that first comes to mind, is Jesus,

Jesus certainly fulfills each of these characteristics through the example of his life, but the answer does not end with Jesus.  In looking at the teachings of Paul and Peter in the New Testament it is evident that they understood the reality that the paradigm of the servant as introduced in Isaiah continued past the life of Jesus into the context of their own lives.

In the book of Acts, in Luke’s description of Paul’s conversion he writes:

He is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name. -Acts 9:15–16

Further, in his letter to the Ephesians, Paul recognizes his servant-hood in his letter to the church in Ephesus:

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. -Ephesians 4:1-3 ESV  

Within these two texts alone, it is evident that Paul is being called and calling the church to embody these same characteristics of the servant as depicted in the prophecy of Isaiah. The call of justice, obedience, and suffering, all which embody the calling of God’s people. Jesus is certainly the perfect fulfillment of the servant, but because of his life, death, and resurrection we are called to continue in living out the paradigm of the servant. Who was the servant that Isaiah was referring to? He was writing of himself, Jesus, Paul, Peter, Polycarp, yourself, and myself. As followers of Christ we are to bring forth justice, be obedient to the calling when others are not, and to suffer for the sake of the Gospel.

‘Why have you forsaken me?’

Matthew 27:46

 “About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’- which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?'” 

Jesus’ cry of dereliction on the cross is among the most mysterious sets of words throughout the entirety of scripture.

Fall of 2011 marked the beginning of my studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Almost immediately into my experiencing a first lecture, I found myself feeling overwhelmed, wondering whether or not I was mistaken in thinking that I could actually handle what was coming academically the next 2 years. This feeling was not too dissimilar to how I feel reading these poignant words of Christ. What in the world does Jesus mean when he asks, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Is there a sense of abandonment in Jesus’ last words? Or, is Jesus simply using the words of the psalmist as a source of strength, and as a reason for encouragement on our part? Could the answer to both of these questions be yes? To briefly comment on the first possible reading of the text, our understanding must include that to some extent, Jesus’ favor and fellowship with the Father had to be cut off because Christ was bearing the sins his followers and enduring God’s wrath. A song that we sing in our church, How Deep the Father’s Love for Us, depicts this thought in a digestible way. Consider the first verse which reads:

How deep the Father’s love for us
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure
How great the pain of searing loss
The Father turns His face away
As wounds which mar the Chosen One
Bring many sons to glory

This understanding of the Father turning his face away certainly lends as motivation to a cry of dereliction. In some capacity, Jesus cries out ‘My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?’ so that we will never have to.   However, this is not a cry solely of defeat, there is something else going here as well: Jesus’ quoting of the 22nd Psalm is a sign of the victory that is to come!

Throughout his public ministry, we see Jesus continually quoting the scriptures, from the temptation of Jesus in the desert (Matt. 4) on through his interaction with the disciples, Pharisees, and others- Jesus is seen as quoting the scriptures as a source of personal strength, as a means of teaching, and as a means of exhibiting his authority over the law. Because of this, there must be more to these words. In quoting Psalm 22, Jesus almost certainly has the entirety of Psalm 22 in mind. Psalm 22 begins as a cry of lament, which moves to cry of victory (v21-31)! Jesus knows that even in the bleakest moment of his humanity, victory is coming!

Victory has come. Even in our darkest moments we can look to Christ and see that the victory has been won! Let us continually remind ourselves of the victory that is found in Jesus, by doing what our Savior did throughout his ministry, and in this moment on the cross: Use scripture to strengthen us and to strengthen our fellow brothers and sisters.

For further meditation: Psalm 22, Matthew 4:1-11

Christ Our Passover

Growing up in the North Shore of Chicago suburbia, I could’t help but notice that once a year the organization of the food displays in grocery stores shifts dramatically so that as you walk into the store you are immediately surrounded by food labeled ‘Kosher for Passover.’ For some, that’s the most we interact with and the most thought that we have in regard to passover. But it is no coincidence that the ‘Last Supper’ occurred during the celebration of passover. Jesus uses this meal, this celebration of the history of Israel to teach the disciples the profound reality that Christ, himself is our passover lamb.

During passover, the jewish people remember the beginning of Israel’s deliverance from slavery, when the Lord brought judgment by killing the firstborn in every Egyptian house but passed over the Israelite houses where the blood of the Passover lamb had been applied (Ex. 12:7, 12–13, 22–28). Those who celebrate the Passover not only look back to God’s grace in deliverance, they continue to look forward to the ultimate liberation yet to come. From now on, Jesus’ blood will protect from judgment those who take refuge in him (1 Cor. 5:7).

In life, just about everything we consume will expire or will become yesterday’s trend. In the time of Mosaic Law, this was even the case for the atonement of sin. At the beginning of each new year of the Hebrew calendar, Israelites would gather into the Temple for Yom Kippur, the day in which the high priest would offer an animal sacrifice to symbolize the payment for the sins of the people. At the dawning of each new year, the sacrifice had in essence expired, leaving the people once again with the need for a sacrificial payment for their sin. Holiness cannot be obtained through the law because of the expiring sacrifice. Something needed to change.

The author of Hebrews tells us that God grants sanctification through the one time, sacrificial death of Christ on the cross (Hebrews 10: 8-10). This sacrifice does not take away our sinfulness, but instead, it takes away the need for humanity to make the payment necessary for atonement. Instead of looking back on a year of sin, needing to renew an expired payment, we may look to Christ for the full forgiveness of sins, for sanctification; for providing us with a sacrifice that will never expire.

Alleluia, thanks be to God!

Justice and the Hope of Mercy, Reflections on the Beginning Chapters of Isaiah

The opening verses of Isaiah, describe a nation that has stumbled mightily. The people of Jerusalem, no longer live in accordance to God’s commands, and instead are depicted as living a life in rebellion of the One who called these people His children. The people were called to strive to live lives of holiness, as established in the book of Leviticus. From that point on there formed a distinct contrast between clean and unclean. While the first six chapters of Isaiah do not necessarily directly use the clean/unclean vocabulary, there is no doubt that Isaiah sees the drastic contrast between the Holiness of God and the uncleanliness of Judah.

As the book begins, Isaiah immediately begins rebuking the people of Judah for their rebellion against God (1:2-ff). Isaiah 1:10-20 suggests that worship lies at the heart of the problem. Barry Webb suggests that their worship has been corrupted, and that the worship that is described in verses 16 and 17 have been simply ignored, that they have been “divorced from justice, the fatherless and widow had become the chief victims” (43).Yet, despite this uncleanliness there is still a message of hope found in verses 18-20. There is a promise of the cleansing of sin, that those who are obedient shall eat the good of the land, while those who rebel shall perish. The beauty of this option, or ultimatum as Webb puts it, is that even though judgment is just and expected, God provides grace. God’s holiness completely outweighs the uncleanliness of His people. So once again, worship is at the heart of the problem, the people have the option to turn to God and receive His grace, or to continue in their corrupt worship and face the coming judgment.

Another indication of the power of holiness over uncleanliness comes in the imagery of the mountain of the Lord, and the idea that the judgment due will be purifying (45). Further, Isaiah describes a mountain that brings people of all nations to worship the Lord. The coming kingdom of God allows this because of the reality that God’s holiness is greater than the impure hearts of man.

Webb’s argument of human arrogance being central to the issue accurately describes the root of rebellion against God in almost all circumstances. Human pride resulted in the fall of mankind in the garden, and it is human arrogance that leads the people of Judah feel entitlement even though they themselves have succumbed to the customs and practices of rivaling nations. More importantly though, despite the reality that the impending judgment is just, there is a continual message of mercy and grace, that brings hope. Hope in the reality that despite human brokenness, despite our impurities, despite the fact that we have all rebelled against God and deserve the judgment that comes with that uncleanliness; there is still the reality that God’s grace is greater. The question then is how we respond to that grace. The people in Isaiah had the option to respond and refocus their worship to the God who delivered his people out of slavery. We have the opportunity to respond to God’s grace in his offering His Son as an atonement for our uncleanliness.

24 | A Trial

In preparation for rehearsal tonight and Sunday’s service, here is what I’ve written up for this week.

March 15, 2015

24 | A Trial

It was an unfair trial from the beginning. It began and ended badly. In the middle, Jesus revealed his identity to the authorities who unequivocally rejected Jesus as the Messiah.

Sermon Text | Matthew 26:57-68

Those who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas the high priest, where the teachers of the law and the elders had assembled. But Peter followed him at a distance, right up to the courtyard of the high priest. He entered and sat down with the guards to see the outcome.

The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death. But they did not find any, though many false witnesses came forward.

Finally two came forward and declared, “This fellow said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days.’”

Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, “Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?” But Jesus remained silent.

The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.”

“You have said so,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?”

“He is worthy of death,” they answered.

Then they spit in his face and struck him with their fists. Others slapped him and said, “Prophesy to us, Messiah. Who hit you?”

Worship Through Singing

Come Ye Sinners

– Recognizes that we are sinners, poor and needy, weak and wounded, sick and sore.

– In the midst of being lost and ruined by ‘the fall’ Jesus is full of pity and love.

Scripture Reading 

Ephesians 2:19-22

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

Cornerstone

– Lyrics of Hymn: ‘On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand’

– Our hope is built in nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness.

– The weak are made strong in the Love of our Savior

In Christ Alone 

– Tells the story of the Gospel

– Re: Christ- ’He is my light, my strength, my song.’

– There is no power of hell or scheme of man that could pluck us from the hand of God.

All My Tears

– Our true home and true freedom are with Christ

– ‘Gold and silver blind the eye, temporary riches lie’

I Need You

– Song of confession

– We find our rest in Christ

– Where sin runs deep, God’s grace abounds!

Man of Sorrows 

– Betrayed by His own

– Carried the weight of sin

– Sent to reconcile humanity with God.

– Our debt has been paid in full.

The Garden of Gethsemane

I haven’t written since well before my transition to Minneapolis. Grace and peace from up north to the few of you who have followed and read this blog over the last few years! As you can imagine, life has been quite busy over the course of the last couple of months.

In the future, I’m going to continue to write in a similar manner as before, but in addition I’m also going to use this blog as a way to either reflect on the past Sunday of worship, or on some occasions as a way to look at preparing for the week to come.

We arrived to Minneapolis in time to start walking through the season of Lent. Our Lenten series is titled ’24’ and in it we are taking a look at the events of the last 24 hours of Jesus’ life up until his execution on Good Friday. This past week we looked at Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. Below you can see a resource that I wrote up and shared with our worship team at rehearsal. I’ve gotten into the routine of writing up these service planning notes as a way of connecting the themes of what we are singing as a church community to the themes of the scripture and sermon we’ll be hearing proclaimed. I hope these will serve you in a similar manner.

24 | The Garden

City Church

March 8, 2015 

Matthew 26:36-56

 

This is a very unusual and unsettling story. It shows us a vulnerable Jesus. It shows us a struggling Jesus. It shows us a Jesus all alone in facing the most important decision of his life. And we see him decide knowing full well the magnitude of the sacrifice he is about to make for all of humanity. And almost as soon as he says, “Amen,” he finds himself on the irrevocable path to the cross.

 

Themes

– Jesus’ request to be delivered from what he had been called to do

– Ultimate submission to the will of his father.

– Knowing our spiritual gifts or our strengths and finding a job that fits us perfectly.

– It’s not a bad desire, but it needs to be balanced by the notion…

– Sometimes we just need to obey God and follow him no matter how hard it may be. – Jesus did this and did it for us. For that we’re eternally grateful.

 Come Thou Fount

  • ‘Prone to wander, Lord I feel it’
  • Gathering Song
  • Prepare hearts for worship
  • Surrender/Submission
  • Remembering God’s Faithfulness (Ebenezer | Stone of Remembrance | 1 Samuel 7)

Christ is Enough

  • Sufficiency of Christ
  • Finding Joy in Trial
  • ‘The Cross before me the world behind me’

 Speak O Lord

  • Prayer for Illumination leading into the sermon
  • ‘Teach us Lord full obedience, holy reverence, True Humility.
  • Song about being confirmed in the likeness of Christ through God’s Word.

I Shall Not Want

  • Song seeking deliverance
  • When we taste God’s goodness, nothing worldly can compare

 When I Survey

  • Christ’s obedience led to his death on the Cross for the sake of Sinners
  • This was the ‘Cup’ that Jesus was hoping to pass by.
  • By drinking of this cup we can indeed be eternally grateful.
  • “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” – D. Bonhoeffer

You Alone Can Rescue

  • Song reflects our story of salvation “Who O Lord could save themselves?’
  • Hope and Salvation are in Christ Alone
  • Boasting in the work of Christ. ‘To You alone belongs the highest praise!”

Benediction

Whatever you may be facing, do what Jesus did:

Seek God in prayer. Ask for what you need.

Then trust him saying, “your will be done.”

Amen. Go in peace.

Other Possible Song Ideas

Lead Us Back – Sojourn

Take My Life and Let it Be

Be Thou My Vision

Man of Sorrows – Hillsong

Show Us Christ – Sovereign Grace Music

Thinking Practically About Congregational Worship | Corporate Worship Should Celebrate God

Corporate Worship Should Celebrate God

In a chapter titled, “God as the Center of Worship: Who Is Worship For?” Marva Dawn writes:

“It is absolutely essential that the church keep God as the subject of worship since to be Christian means to believe that God revealed in Jesus Christ is everything to us- Creator, Provider, and Sustainer; Deliverer, Redeemer, and Lord; Sanctifier, Inspirer, and Empowerer.”

If the Gospel is truly the central belief of the church, God will naturally be rooted as the source and subject of worship. Thus, worship should celebrate the attributes and actions of God, who He is, what He has done for us, and for what He will continue to do. Dawn notes, “the word worship comes from the Old English roots weorth, meaning ‘honor’ and ‘worthiness,’ and scipe, signifying ‘to create.’ Within our inadequacies of humanity it is of course impossible to create God’s honor, simply because of the fact that honor is inherent of God. Nevertheless in worship we are called to bring honor to God and to proclaim that He is worthy of praise. When we remember God as the source and subject of worship our response should be celebration.

Where Does the Church get this Wrong?

Or perhaps a better question is, how might our worship services convey something other than the reality that God is central in worship? Dawn suggests several factors are to blame for the loss of God as the object of our worship. This includes lack of teaching on worship, improper motivation of worship, and further that cultural norms and ideals have shifted the way in which many worship services are structured. John Jefferson Davis, in his theological study of the real presence of God in worship, comments on observations of the ‘mega-church’ culture of a church he visited in Denver, Colorado. He writes:

“Here I am in ‘church,’ and I find my attention focused on the television screens, not on the real human being down front… As we left the church, I had something of an epiphany, realizing that even the church furnishings – in this case, the theatre-style seatingwere sending a subliminal message, one that my culture sends continuously: ‘Sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.” (Davis, Worship and the Reality of God, 8.)

While reading of his surroundings in this ‘worship’ experience, I became reminded of this perceived performance of contemporary worship, as memory of visiting a mega-church in the Louisville suburbs snuck back into my mind. Like Davis, I recall the oddity it was to see the worship team more visibly on the large video screens (complete with lyrics over their faces) than when actually looking at the platform. Listening to the sermon, again while watching the pastor on the screens because of how far away you are sitting, and arena seating where the people, like in the case of Davis’ experience, were more likely to be holding a cup of coffee in their hands than a Bible.

For myself, this ‘church’ experience was something so different from any other church experience, and I found it difficult to get past the ‘performance’ and ‘entertainment’ culture that had seemingly been broadcast by the entire set-up of this church. We value the entertainment aspect of church, and often leave the service mulling over whether or not we enjoyed the service. Or we find ourselves leaving with the question “what did I get from this service? How has the service met my own needs? All of a sudden, worship becomes less about God (He who is to be worshipped), and more about the individual congregant (He who is to participate in the act of worship).

Unfortunately, at time it appears many have too quickly taken the ‘performance based mindset’ that is seen in many mega-churches, and have stamped ‘performance’ on all forms of contemporary evangelical worship. If the music is too loud for our taste, if we are not primarily singing hymns, if songs are accompanied by a praise band, rather than an organ, piano, choir, or orchestra- then it is almost as if the band has to ‘prove’ in some way that ‘it is not about them.’ Davis writes, “worship in ‘Spirit and in truth’ implies and requires a new vision of the real, and new cognitive habits and practices that give access to heavenly realities in worship… Christians today have to fight to take back biblical reality and to train themselves to see reality in a thoroughly different way, through a different ontological way.”

Developing a ‘Weightier’ Ontology

Much of what Davis addresses in his text is this notion that we need to develop a weightier ontology. He writes of three ontologies that ‘compete for shelf space’ within the Christian mind:

1) Scientific Materialism (modernity)

2) Digital Virtualism (post-modernity)

3) Trinitarian Supernaturalism (eternity).

As humanity places greater importance on the ontology of scientific materialism or digital virtualism our understanding of the ontological realty of the Trinitarian God lessens to the point where our worship is more reminiscent of earthly realities than heavenly. In terms of our worship the question should be posed; do we have a Trinitarian ontology that outweighs the cultural influence from the scientific and virtual ontologies that pollute our everyday lives or are these competing ontologies getting in the way of celebrating God in worship?

I’ll continue these thoughts in my next post, exploring the question on how structure both service structure and physical worship space structure can assist in our developing a weightier ontology.

Thanks for reading! Feel free to comment below with some of your own thoughts and perspectives.

Thinking Practically About Congregational Worship

In the beginning, there was worship; and in the end of days worship will never cease.

This is certainly true and easy to state, but the implications that come as a result of this truth are far more complicated than the simplicity this claim may indicate. It has already been established within this series that God throughout history sets the standard for worship. Worship is of God and to God. The questions then that need to be ask include: what does this mean for the church today, and how does what is understood about worship as it unfolds in the bible apply to weekly gatherings of corporate worship? In Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down, Marva Dawn acknowledges that “[her] greatest concern for the church has to do with worship, because its character-forming potential is so subtle and barely noticed, and yet worship creates a great impact on the hearts and minds and lives of a congregation’s members. Indeed, how we worship reveals and forms our identity as persons and communities” (4). Worship informs humanity of who God is and who we are in relation to Him. With these questions in mind we will shift our focus from strictly theological in order to develop a more practical theology of worship.

Part two of this study is designed to take what is evident from our understanding of God’s ordination and gift of worship from the biblical cannon and contextualize it for the local church. As a Pastor of Worship it is important to have a philosophy of corporate worship and practice said philosophy in a manner that is pleasing to God. The remainder of this study is designating to presenting a practical theology of worship.

We are all Wired to Worship

In an article on worship and theology, Rolf Hille responds to the question of whether or not worship of God alienates people from the very essence of being a human. He responds with regard to Genesis 1:27, ‘God created man in his image, in his likeness he created him and created him male and female.’ Because we are created in the image of God, seeking God must be the essence of humanity. Worship is therein ‘a universal expression of fulfilled humanity.’

Likewise, John Jefferson Davis (Worship and the Reality of God) is convinced that when humanity worships God, “it is the highest and most fulfilling act of which a human being is capable; it is that experience in which we in fact become most truly human, for communion with the living God is the eternal purpose (Eph 1:4-6) for which human beings were created.” Because we are indeed created in the image of God, we find our ultimate fulfillment in worshiping the one by which we were created, thus we are all indeed wired to worship. The question then becomes what is the object of our worship, and do we obtain the right to select the object of our worship?

To Whom Does Worship Belong?

Coming to the knowledge that we been created to worship means coming to some realizations about how to worship and to whom worship belongs. Ultimately, worship belongs to God. As we’ve seen in previous posts, God is the one who sets the standard. Also, it should be noted that God is audience of our worship. Yesterday marked the anniversary of the death of theologian Soren Kierkegaard who famously looks at the participants of worship through the lens of the theatre.

“Alas, in regard to things spiritual, the foolish of many is this, that they in the secular sense look upon the speaker as the actor, and the listeners as theatergoers who are to pass judgement upon the artist. But the speaker is not the actor – not in the remotest sense. No, the speaker is the prompter. There are no mere theatergoers present, for each listener will be looking into his own heart. The stage is eternity, and the listener, if his is the true listener (and if he is not, he is at fault) stands before God during the talk. The prompter whispers to the actor what he is to say, but the actor’s repetition of it is the main concern – is the solemn charm of the art. T he speaker whispers the word to the listeners. But the main concern is earnestness: that the listeners by themselves, with themselves, and to themselves, in the silence before God, may speak with the help of the address. The address is not given for the speaker’s sake, in order that men may praise or blame him. The listener’s repetition of it is what is aimed for. If the speaker has that responsibility for what he whispers, then the listener has an equally great responsibility not to fall short in his task. In the theater, the play is staged before an audience who are called theatergoers; but at the devotional address, God himself is present. In the most earnest sense God is the critical theatergoer, who looks on to see how the lines are spoken and how they are listened to: hence here the customary audience is wanting. The speaker then is the prompter, and the listener stands openly before God. The listener, if I may say so, is the actor, who in all truth acts before God.”

To put it simply, the ‘cast’ of the worship service, from the lens of Kierkegaard would be as follows:

– The congregation = performers
– Pastor and Worship Leaders = prompters
– God is our audience and our worship is directed to Him.

This is certainly a helpful analogy. If you haven’t yet I’d encourage you to read my post titled, Worship as Rehearsal. In this post I look at our corporate gatherings as an opportunity to rehearse the gospel weekly.

To some extent, worship does belong to the people. The ownership that she presents however is not authoritative ownership. Marva Dawn points out our freedom in worship stems out of the reality that all have the freedom to worship God through Christ. Christ came so that we might no longer need a mediator, thus any notion that a priest, pastor, or musician have claim to ‘owning’ the worship should be void. Instead, she notes that worship, particularly corporate worship belongs to the community of believers:

“community worship [is] worship that crosses the lines of time and space, worship that involves us in each other and not in our own private mullings, selfishness or falsely cozy ‘personal relationship with Jesus.’”

In a strong sense, Dawn is pointing out that while corporate worship does belong to the people, it does not belong to the individual. There needs to be a greater appreciation and awareness of the heritage of the church. Worship is not simply in the here and now of our corporate gatherings on Sunday mornings. Worship is a cosmic event that transcends time and space. When we gather amidst the presence of God corporately we should do so with the knowledge that our worship is rooted in the acts of God in the past and the promise of an everlasting future of worship to come. When we keep in mind the historical provision of God and the eternal provision promised we are able to fully acknowledge that while God gives his people ownership in worship, God above all, has true ownership as throughout time He provides the means for which worship may occur.