Worship Song of the Month

the blessing of the HOLY SPIRIT

As we looked last week at the first three chapters of Ephesians, I hope you were inspired by the way the apostle Paul describes the Church.  The Church is a holy people, the body and fullness of Christ, a building established on Scripture and Christ, a temple in which God lives.  The Church communicates the wisdom and love of God to the powers-that-be and the people-that-need.   The Church is a good gift from God—a blessing. 

In these same chapters, Paul also speaks of another good gift that God gives his people:  the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit blesses us with Assurance, Relationship, and Power.

First, we can have Assurance of God’s plan. God’s plan has been unfolding since before creation.  It was God’s plan to send Jesus to die on the cross to redeem and forgive us, and to make us holy in his sight.  It was God’s plan that all who believe in that redemptive work should be adopted as his children. God’s plan is that, in the fullness of time, all of the blessings outlined in Ephesians 1:3-14 will be fully realized, and all things will be united under Christ.

In grace, God made known to us his mysterious plan, which he “set forth” or “purposed” in Christ. When we heard the gospel truth and believed in Jesus, we were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit. The Spirit gives us assurance of God’s plan, and because we have the Holy Spirit, we can be assured that we have been included in it. The Holy Spirit is a “deposit” guaranteeing that we will in fact inherit eternal life in the new heavens and the new earth. 

The Spirit also gives us Relationship.  We are, first of all, given relationship with God.  As “the eyes of [our hearts] are enlightened,” we come to know God more and more.  We increase in hope, we enjoy his present and future blessings, and we understand his power (1:17-23).

The Apostle Paul makes it clear that this relationship with God is given to both Jewish and Gentile followers of Christ. And, by the Spirit, we are reconciled not only to the Father but to one another.

“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father” (2:13-18).

By the Spirit, we are given relationship to God and with fellow believers.

Finally, the good gift of the Holy Spirit is a blessing of Power.  It is impossible to imagine the extent of this power, which is “immeasurably great.” As Paul says, the power working in and through us is the same power that God “exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand” (1:19-20). 

Just as God’s power raised Jesus to life, God raised us to life (2:4-5).  The power of the Spirit gave insight to the apostles and prophets (3:4-5); this same power gives us insight into God’s redemptive plan (1:8-10).  The power of the Spirit made Paul “a minister of the gospel” (3:7), and the Holy Spirit gives us gifts to be used for the edification of the Church and the spread of the gospel message today. God’s power gives us strength in our inner beings. It gives us faith and endurance and comfort.  The power of the Holy Spirit is at work in us to transform us for God’s glory (3:16-21). 

I am thankful for the blessing of the Holy Spirit.  As we see the heart of Paul in Ephesians 1-3, let’s join together in praying that we (as individuals and as the Church) would grow in Assurance of our salvation and in Relationship with God and each other.  Let’s pray that we would have the Power of the Holy Spirit to grasp the amazing love of Christ that surpasses our own knowledge, and to be filled with all the fullness of God. 

Uncategorized

the blessing of CHURCH

We don’t always think of Church as a blessing. 

Sometimes we engage with Church as a cold institution. Or we might see the Church as a judgmental, fractured, political group of individuals.  Some people experience great pain and disenfranchisement within the Church, and as a result, make a conscious decision to be a Christ-follower without being a church-participant.  Others may be apathetic towards the Church; they find that church has no impact, and instead seek meaning in other communities or choose to live privately “spiritual” lives.

Whatever our hurts or disappointments, I encourage all of us to read the first three chapters of Ephesians to see how the apostle Paul describes the Church. I hope that, through Paul’s eyes, we will start to view the Church as a blessing.

In Ephesians 1:3-14, Paul praises God for the many “spiritual blessings” that are given us in Christ.  These blessings include our having been chosen by God to be holy and blameless, predestined for adoption, and redeemed through Christ’s blood.  Our sins are forgiven, we have had God’s grace lavished upon us, and we have been given understanding of God’s plan. We have been included in Christ and marked with the Holy Spirit. We are “God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.”

We tend to think of these blessings as having been given to each of us as individuals (and we often experience them in that way), but Paul is speaking to a community of believers in Ephesus—whom he calls “the faithful in Christ Jesus” (1:1). In his list of spiritual blessings, we find a multitude of the pronouns “we,” “us,” and plural “you.”

We—the Church—receive the blessings of Christ, and, in turn, we are a blessing—blessing God and blessing one another. In Eph. 1:15-21, Paul thanks God for the local church community in Ephesus because of two things:  their faith in Jesus (I think of this as a vertical expression of the Church) and their love for all of God’s people (horizontal).  He prays that the church there will be built up in wisdom, knowledge, and enlightenment in order to know Christ and the inheritance and power given to “his holy people.”

Then he makes this beautiful statement about the Church: “God placed all things under Christ’s feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way” (1:22-23).

Wow. The Church is the fullness of Christ. The Church is his Body.

In The Cost of Discipleship, theologian Dietrich Bonhoffer says: “The Body of Christ is identical with the new humanity which [Jesus] has taken upon him.  It is in fact the Church.  Jesus Christ is at once himself and his Church… To be in Christ therefore means to be in the Church.”  He continues, “Since the ascension, Christ’s place on earth has been taken by his Body, the Church.  The Church is the real presence of Christ.”

As the Body of Christ, we have been made alive with Christ, given the privilege of participating in his mission and work, and are recipients together of his blessings (2:1-10).

We are brought near, through the blood of Christ, to God and to each other (2:11-3:6). We are one People, united in Christ.  We are Citizens and Family Members.  We are a Building, rising up from the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ as the chief Cornerstone.  Together, we are being built into a Temple in which God lives by his Spirit. We are Heirs of and Sharers in the promises of Christ.

It is through the Church that God intends for “the manifold wisdom of God [to] be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms” (3:10).

And it is in the Church that we “may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that [we] may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (3:18-19). 

Yes, Church can be disappointing.  Mainly because the Church is full of disappointing people (myself included). 

But I encourage you, if you aren’t currently joined to and participating in a local church, to find a community of believers with whom you can be built up and filled.  If you are already in a church body, look at your church—whatever its faults—as a blessing.   

And, even if deep wounds or ongoing frustrations make it “immeasurably more than all [you] could ask or imagine” (3:20-21) that Church would be a blessing, God is able.  His power is at work within us.

“To him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!  Amen.”

Worship Song of the Month

Worship Song of the Month

March 4: How Deep the Father’s Love for Us

Many years ago, when I served as Director of Music at a church in Illinois, I shared my very first “Worship Song of the Month” article with our church family there.  I reached out to Stuart Townend for his thoughts on his hymn “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us,” and he graciously responded.  Of course, this was long before the proliferation of “stories-behind-the-songs” videos and blogs on church websites and YouTube.

As our church at Parkminster continues a Journey through Matthew’s Gospel, and as we approach our remembrance of Jesus’s death on Good Friday and our celebration of his resurrection on Easter, I think it’s appropriate for us to again sing this hymn—which is now more than 25 years old!  For our “Worship Song of the Month” devotionals, we will reflect together on Jesus’s death, with a focus on the Father, Jesus, and me.

When I sing the first verse of How Deep the Father’s Love for Us, several questions about the Father come to my mind. What was the Father feeling when Jesus was suffering on the cross? Did the Father experience loss when Jesus died?  Did he turn his face away from the Son?

What we do know is that the Father sent the Son to earth for the purpose of death on the cross.  This is a theme of John’s gospel, with Jesus repeatedly declaring that he had been sent by God (John 6:29, 8:42, 10:36, and 17:3).  Galatians 4:4-5 asserts that Jesus’s death was always part of the Father’s plan: “But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law.” 

I can’t imagine what it must have been like for the Father to purposefully send his Son to his execution.  Jesus’s flogging and crucifixion were excruciating, and the Father knew it would be that way.   As his death drew agonizingly near, Jesus prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.  Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39).  But the Father was not deterred in his purposes: “It was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer” (Isaiah 53:10). Did the Father suffer as he saw his Son suffer, even as he was pleased with Jesus’s obedience and redemptive act?

I don’t know whether the Father turned his face away as Jesus suffered on the cross, as Stuart Townend’s lyrics poetically state.  I imagine these lyrics could express some of the suffering the Father may have experienced as he witnessed his suffering Son. Or the isolation Jesus might have felt on the cross. Or it’s possible that, when Jesus cried out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46), there was a physical separation—a distance between the holy Father and his Son, who, on the cross, had the sin of the entire world piled upon him (Isaiah 53:6, 1 John 2:2). Some people who are smarter and more qualified than I reject that idea, speaking about the eternal, unbroken relationship of the Trinity. But in any case, the Father certainly planned for, initiated, and brought to fulfillment his Son’s death.  He didn’t “rescue” Jesus from the cross. And, though much of the Psalm 22 that Jesus quoted in his tumultuous prayer proclaims trust in God’s ultimate deliverance, the suffering was immediate and real. “We considered [Jesus] punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted” (Isaiah 53:4).

Of course, the Father did not abandon Jesus permanently (Acts 2:31-32). But unlike Jesus, who lived and died in perfect obedience to the Father, our sin has the potential to separate us fully and permanently from God. It is only because of Jesus’s sacrifice that the Father will no longer turn his face away from us (Isaiah 59:1-2) in our sinfulness.  Because of Jesus’s death on the cross, the Father’s wrath is satiated (Romans 5:8-9). The penalty for sin is death (Romans 6:23)—but Jesus has received our punishment.

Even as I try to imagine what the Father may have been feeling at the death of his Son, what is clear in Scripture is that he felt great love—love for us! “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10). The Father sent his one and only beloved Son to die, in order that many sons (and daughters) might be brought to glory (Hebrews 2:9-11). He sent his Son to his death to make wretches into treasures, slaves into sons. “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1).

How great the Father’s love for us!

Worship Song of the Month

Worship Song of the Month

February 4: Hallelujah, Praise Jehovah

This week, I invite you to read my blog post on Ephesians 5, which, for me, is a “life passage” for worship.  In Ephesians 5:19, we are instructed to “speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit.”  This directive has become a bit of a theme for me, as I try to include both hymns and songs in our worship repertoire on Sunday mornings and in our “Worship Song of the Month” devotionals, and also to choose some hymns and songs that are based on Psalms. 

This month, we will be singing a hymn that is even more directly tied to the Psalms. Hallelujah, Praise Jehovah is an example of what we call a metrical, versified, or rhymed Psalm. Throughout the month of February, we will look at Psalm 146 (NIV) side by side with the metered version, and enjoy singing what is essentially Scripture itself.

Today, let’s look at the first verse of “Hallelujah, Praise Jehovah.”

Praise the LORD. 

Hallelujah, praise Jehovah.

Praise the LORD, my soul.

O my soul, Jehovah praise.

I will praise the LORD all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.

I will sing the glorious praises of my God through all my days.

Do not put your trust in princes,

Put no confidence in princes,

in human beings, who cannot save.

nor for help on man depend.

When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;

He shall die, to dust returning,

on that very day their plans come to nothing.

and his purposes shall end.

In this part of the Psalm and song, we instruct our souls to praise the LORD (in all caps, meaning Jehovah or Yahweh or I AM). We call him by his most intimate and holy name, and then we commit to worship him our entire lives. We remind ourselves to put our trust only in God, not in earthly rulers or leaders or human helpers. Our plans and the plans of those on whom we would rely will ultimately end. Only God’s purposes extend beyond a lifetime, from generation to generation, throughout eternity.

For Reflection: Remind your “soul” of all that God has done for you. Remind yourself that, even when you fail, leaders fail, or the people around you fail, God never does. Commit to praising God for the rest of your life. Praise the Lord!

Worship Song of the Month

Worship Song of the Month: Kids’ Edition

It’s been a while since I’ve written a “Kids’ Edition” devotional, so I thought I would share a story for kids—and for all of us—as we look at our Worship Song of the Month Only a Holy God.  This story reminds us to get “up-close and personal” with God.

This past summer for our son’s sixteenth birthday, we visited Niagara Falls.  My husband David and I had seen the Falls many times, but it was great to be there with our kids—several of whom were experiencing these waterfalls for the first time.  A first for all of us was hiking up the side of the American Falls.  We donned our ponchos and walked down to the bottom of the Falls. 

In my opinion, the Falls are even more beautiful up-close.  We touched the mossy rocks, felt the mist spraying us, and reached into the falling water.  And looking up, the Falls loomed over us—tall and majestic. 

As we walked up the steps next to the Falls, the water at our feet increased and the mist became heavier.  Partway up, a landing was set up so that we could try to walk towards and under the Falls—emphasis on “try.”  The power of the water pushing us back was amazing, and the rushing sound of the water was overwhelming. 

Later that day, our family also got to ride in a giant boat that takes passengers as close as possible to the curve of the Canadian Falls.  The closer we got to the Falls, the more the boat was rocked back and forth by gusts of wind, and spray washed over us in waves.  At one point, a burst of wind and water knocked us all back so hard and suddenly that everyone on the boat screamed in unison. 

Experiences in nature can remind us of the beauty and power of our God, who created everything in the world.  And in the same way that getting “up-close” to a natural wonder increases our appreciation of that wonder, we need to get up-close to our holy God to truly know and experience how wonderful he is. 

When was the last time you prayed by yourself, not just with your family or in church?  When did you last read your Bible?  Do you ever sing worship songs when you are alone?  I encourage you this week to get “up-close and personal” with God.  Find a book of the Bible that interests you, and start to read a chapter each day.  Write down a sentence or two about what you read, so that you can hear what God is saying to you.  Then take a moment to pray and maybe even sing. 

As we sing in our Worship Song of the Month, “Only a Holy God,” God invites us to worship him. So, go ahead—get up-close to our sovereign, beautiful, powerful, and holy God.

“Deep calls to deep
    in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
    have swept over me.

“By day the Lord directs his love,
    at night his song is with me—
    a prayer to the God of my life.” (Psalm 42:7-8)

Worship Song of the Month

Worship Song of the Month

January 14: Only a Holy God

I don’t know about you, but I feel a need for expressing and hearing a singular message this month, which is why I chose Only a Holy God as our Worship Song of the Month.  The invitation of this song is simple:  Come and worship the holy God.

In the first verse of “Only a Holy God” we worship God for his amazing sovereignty.  Who else commands all the hosts of heaven?  Who else could make every king bow down?  Who else can whisper and darkness trembles?  Only a holy God.

In the second verse, we praise him for his beauty.  What other beauty demands such praises?  What other splendor outshines the sun?  What other majesty rules with justice?  Only a holy God.

The third verse proclaims God’s power.  What other glory consumes like fire?  What other power can raise the dead?  What other name remains undefeated?  Only a holy God.

Finally, in the fourth verse, we see our failures in light of God’s sovereignty.  We see our unworthiness in light of his beauty.  And we see we can only worship such a powerful God—calling him “my” holy God—because he invites us.   Who else could rescue me from my failing?  Who else would offer his only Son?  Who else invites me to call him Father?  Only a holy God.  Only my holy God.

When we sing “Only a Holy God,” we affirm that God alone is holy—always right and good—not me, not you, not any of our leaders or favorite spokespeople.   We are reminded that God alone should be worshipped—put above all of our other principles and priorities.

The invitation to worship is for our gatherings on Sundays and for our daily lives: Come and worship the holy God.

For Reflection:  Read 1 Chronicles 16:7-36.  How are God’s attributes of sovereignty, beauty, power, and holiness celebrated in this passage?  Worship him, and thank him for inviting you to worship him. 

Worship Song of the Month

Facebook Test

As a Christian, I try to only argue with Christians on Facebook.

Yes, I know that sounds counter-intuitive.  But I feel that, first of all, Christians should be able to understand each other, because we have a similar framework through which we view the world. 

Similarly, I tend to extend more grace (I know, sad) to non-Christians, because if they are misled, it may be because they don’t have this same framework of Christ and his teachings.

Thirdly, Christians being true to Christ—his word, work, and witness—is the most important thing to me.  People who follow Christ should have similar priorities, and if they don’t, perhaps it is my responsibility as their sister to correct them.  Right? 

Well, if there’s anything this attack on the United States Capitol building has taught me, it’s how much I don’t know. 

I don’t know how to respond to the onslaught of arguments—from Christians—that predictably enter my Facebook feed.  There are arguments on one side, arguments on the other, arguments in-between.  Even arguments about what we should be arguing about.  Everyone is arguing that s(he) has more figured out than the person (s)he’s arguing with. 

I don’t know how not to think less of the people (Christians in particular) who are arguing, especially if they’re arguing for or against something with which I disagree.

I also don’t know how to convince these Christians not to think less of me.

I know (or think I know) what’s wrong, but I don’t know (or sometimes I think I do) which wrong takes priority over which other wrong. 

I don’t know when to respond, and I don’t know when to ignore. 

~~~~~

I would like to be more like the apostle Paul—whom I personally think is the best arguer in the Bible (feel free to argue this point).

When a faction arose in the Christian church stating that people could only belong to Christ’s Church if they followed Jewish laws of circumcision, the apostle Paul strongly condemned this additional test of belonging to God’s people.  He stated that “the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (Galatians 5:6). 

The other day on Facebook, I was accused of not being pro-life.  Anyone that knows me knows that I am pro-life and have been all my life. (“If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless” (Philippians 3:4-6).)  But in the context of this accusation, I tried (and I think failed) to communicate that, though I am pro-life, that is not my identity or priority.  Christ is. 

What is your Facebook test that I am a follower of Christ?  Is it that I be pro-life?  Anti-racism?  Pro-democracy?  Anti-socialism? Anti-Trump? Pro-Trump? Anti-rioting?  Anti-election fraud?  Anti-censorship?  Anti-media?  Leftist?  Conservative?  Moderate? 

I’m not saying that I don’t think some of those things are good and some are bad.  I personally feel strongly that Christ-followers should be some of those things and not others.  I understand the desire of Christians to say to their brothers and sisters – your viewpoint is WRONG! 

But perhaps those conversations should be happening privately, in the context of relationship—for the sake of Christ and his Church, and for the sake of the world—who I fear, are no longer hearing our main message. 

When Paul defended himself before the world, he gave his testimony and pointed to Christ and Christ alone.  It was in private letters to the churches with which he had relationship that he argued for the rightness and wrongness of particular actions and beliefs. 

I guess Paul’s response to the circumcision faction sums up how I feel about the attack on the Capitol building, in particular how the demonstration has once again stirred up passionate arguments among Christians.  Come on, people, I want to shout (and need to shout to myself), “the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love!”  And, “as for these agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!” (Galatians 5:12).

Resources

Five Thanksgiving Scenes

On a Sunday night during the week of Thanksgiving, our church family gathered together for an informal worship service — a time of eating, singing, praying, and sharing our reasons for giving thanks. Because of the current covid-19 pandemic, we made safety a priority — catering the food, spacing and individually releasing the tables, singing only briefly, and wearing masks. Despite all that, we had a wonderful experience of celebrating God’s goodness to us. We also had fun doing a “Readers’ Theater” of Five Thanksgiving Scenes from the Bible. This was my first time writing such a script, and our church people were the best readers a brand-new playwright could ask for! We chose a reader from each table, gave them each highlighted parts, and they read clearly and enthusiastically from their spaced tables.

I’m sharing this little script in the hopes that others can use these Scenes in their church, family, or small group worship. (Please just remember to give credit to the author in any written publications.)

Without further ado, I give you — FIVE THANKSGIVING SCENES.

Narrator:  Scene 1.  The news has just arrived that a great big army is coming after God’s people.  The king of God’s people is a man with a funny name, Jehoshaphat, and he’s scared. So, he calls all of the people together to pray for God’s help.

Reader One (male): “Lord, you rule over everything!  Power and might are in your hand!  We remember how you got rid of our enemies before.  So now, won’t you take care of these invaders?  We don’t know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”

Narrator:  Then the Holy Spirit comes on another funny-named guy, Jahaziel, and he stands up!

Reader Two (male): “Listen, everybody!  The Lord says, ‘Don’t be afraid.  Tomorrow, go out to face your enemies, and I will be with you.’”

Narrator:  Jehoshaphat believes Jahaziel, and before the battle even starts, Jehoshaphat assigns people the job of singing a song of thanksgiving:

Readers One and Two (together): “Give thanks to the LORD!  His love endures forever!”

Narrator:  While they sing, God ambushes the enemies with… other enemies!  The new enemies fight the original enemies.  Then, after the original enemies are defeated, the new enemies turn on each other.  When God’s people come to the place where the battle was going to be, all of the enemies are already dead. 

Reader One:  When we face tough fights in our lives, let’s remember to give thanks even before the battle begins.  We can trust God with the result, saying, “Give thanks to the LORD!  His love endures forever!”

Narrator:  Scene 2.  Hannah is a young lady who loves God.  But she is very sad, because she isn’t able to have any children.  She’s so sad, that she won’t stop crying, and she won’t eat.   Weeping uncontrollably, Hannah goes to the temple to pray.

Reader Three (female): “Lord, I’m your servant.  Don’t forget me; please give me a son.  If you do give me a son, I will dedicate him to serve you at the temple.”

Narrator:  While Hannah is praying, her lips are moving even though she isn’t praying out loud.  So Eli, the priest, thinks she’s drunk.

Reader Four (male): “Lady, don’t drink anymore!”

Reader Three: “I’m not drunk, I’m just really, really sad.  And I’m pouring out my soul to the Lord.”

Reader Four: “Go in peace.  May God give you what you’ve asked.”

Narrator:  Hannah is no longer sad.  God answers her prayer, and she gives birth to a baby boy.  She names her son Samuel, which means “God heard me.”  Hannah also keeps her promise to God, and Samuel grows up at the temple, loving God and listening to his voice.  Eventually, Samuel becomes a prophet who shares God’s messages. 

Reader Three:  When we are sad, we should go to God and pray.  And when God answers our prayers, let’s remember to give him credit.  We can say to God, “You heard me.”

Narrator:  Scene 3.  A girl stands, stunned, looking at the angel who just told her she is going to give birth to the Son of God.  

Reader Five (female): “How will this happen?”

Reader Six (male): “Mary, the Holy Spirit will come on you, and your son will be the holy Son of God.  No word from God will ever fail.” 

Reader Five: “I serve the Lord.  I accept God’s word to me.”

Narrator:  Mary is very young, and unmarried, and will suffer both shame (initially) and sorrow (eventually) from her role as mother to Jesus.  But even though her situation isn’t easy, she gives thanks to God.  She even makes up a song to express her thanks.

Reader Five: “My soul magnifies the Lord!  I have joy in God my Savior.  He has remembered me and blessed me.  Holy is his name!”

Narrator:  Later, Mary gives birth to Jesus, the Son of God.  She remembers all of the amazing things that have happened, and spends time thinking about them. 

Reader Five:  When God gives us blessings we don’t expect—even situations that seem hard or uncomfortable—we can say, “My soul magnifies the Lord!”

Narrator:  Scene 4.  Jesus has grown up, and is going around teaching and doing miracles.  As he enters a village, ten men with a terrible skin disease come out to see him.  Men with diseases like this aren’t allowed to come near other people, since they are “unclean” and contagious.  So, they call out to Jesus from a distance.

Reader Seven (male): “Jesus, take pity on us!”

Reader Eight (male): “Go, show yourselves to the priests.”

Narrator:  A long time before this, Moses had instructed God’s people that, if they were cured of a disease like leprosy, they should go to the priests and show them their healed skin.  Then, the priests would announce that they were well, and they could go back to being around people again.  The men obey Jesus, and, on their way to the priests, they realize they are cured!  One of them runs back to Jesus, praising God loudly.  He falls down in front of Jesus, and shouts,

Reader Seven: “Thank you, Jesus!”

Reader Eight: “Weren’t there ten men?  Weren’t they all healed?  Where are the other nine?  Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

Reader Seven:  When we experience God’s care for us, let’s remember to say, “Thank you, Jesus!”

Narrator:  Scene 5.  An old man hunches over a piece of paper.  He can’t go outside, because he’s been arrested and right now is either in jail or kept prisoner in a house.  His body is in a lot of pain.  But despite his suffering, he picks up a pen, and writes a letter to the church in Philippi, saying:

Reader Nine (male):  “Rejoice in the Lord!  I’ll say it again:  Rejoice!  Don’t be anxious, but pray to God and give thanks.  And God’s peace—more than you can understand—will be with you.”

Narrator:  Then this man, whose name is Paul, writes that he knows a secret.

Reader Nine:  “I know the secret of giving thanks no matter what.  If I’m hungry or I’m well-fed, if I’m poor or I’m rich, Jesus gives me strength.”

Narrator:  You see, Jesus had died on the cross and come back to life, and Paul had met the risen Jesus.  After that happens, Paul is changed completely, and he starts telling everyone he can about Jesus.  Even when he’s in prison and no longer able to travel around telling people about Jesus, he finds a way.  He writes letters encouraging and teaching Christians.  Paul ends this letter by reminding the church in Philippi—and us—that God will meet all of our needs through Jesus.

Reader Nine:  When we are struggling, we should give thanks to God.  And when we are thriving, we should give thanks to God.  In any situation, “Rejoice in the Lord!  I’ll say it again:  Rejoice!”

Narrator:  On this Thanksgiving, we learn from these Five Scenes, out of many scenes in the Bible where people give thanks to God for his goodness to them.  We remember Jehoshaphat, Hannah, Mary, the leper, and Paul.  We hear them say:

Reader One: “Give thanks to the LORD!  His love endures forever!”

Reader Three: “You heard me.”

Reader Five: “My soul magnifies the Lord!”

Reader Seven: “Thank you, Jesus!”

Reader Nine: “Rejoice in the Lord!  I’ll say it again:  Rejoice!”

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ATTENTION PASTORS: 10 Things Your Worship Leaders Wish You Would Stop Doing and Saying

I’m writing this post for pastors, with the hope that it might help you to better understand your worship leaders, and perhaps avoid saying and doing things that are well-intentioned but come across negatively. And I’m writing this post for my fellow worship leaders, who may be feeling some of these things but can’t communicate them to their pastors. I have the utmost respect and love for each of the pastors with whom I have served and under whose leadership I have grown — which is why I’m choosing to post this list (which I may or may not have written in the past) now, when the church at which I’m serving is in-between pastors.

Any resemblance to former pastors is purely coincidental.

So, here you go: Pastors, my Top 10 things your worship leaders wish you would stop doing and saying.

10. Stop telling us you “need time to develop your sermons,” and then expect us to put the worship service together in a couple of hours.

I say this with so much respect for pastors and the time it must take to prepare a sermon – I can’t even imagine!   And I say it with grace, because I know you are busy, and crises and emergencies come up all the time in ministry. But if you regularly wait until Wednesday afternoon to send your sermon info to your worship leader (even the basics), when you know the musicians rehearse that night… Or if you often send it an hour before your worship leader needs to present their service ideas to you and the worship committee… Or if the church secretary has to let your worship leader know what the service topic is, on the day the bulletin is due… What are you communicating to your worship leader about how much you value what they do? What are you saying about the time you think their work takes? 

I once had a pastor tell me that it was no big deal for me to go on vacation (a nice sentiment) because he could just “throw together a couple of songs.”  This communicated (I thought) a misunderstanding and undervaluing of what I strive to do on a weekly basis.  Yes, some weeks the worship service comes together quickly.  Other times, the process is a struggle – a disciplined, time-intensive workout of reading Scripture, studying resources, researching music, brainstorming ideas, trying things out, and practicing. 

Much like sermon prep.

9. Stop telling us that “general worship” is just as good as themed worship.

While it’s true that a worship service doesn’t have to have a theme to be good, please don’t use this as an excuse to not communicate your sermon topics or texts.  Some worship leaders may pick songs out of a hat, but most desire a starting point, and… see #10. 

Imagine having to come up with a sermon from scratch each week – with no series, theme, liturgy, or predetermined book of the Bible – picking a Scripture or topic from thin air. Perhaps some preachers (and worship leaders) can do this on a regular basis, but I am not one of them.

8. Stop having the “contemporary vs. traditional” discussion.

I’m not going to harp on this one, because the point of #8 is that I’m tired of the harping. Communicate clearly your expectations, choose your worship leaders according to their strengths and your goals, then let them be creative within your parameters and with the resources and volunteers with which your church has been blessed. If you’d like, set dates to evaluate your church’s mission, vision, and style (every 5 years?).  You can set more regular times to evaluate how well you’re achieving these goals, but don’t regularly evaluate or change the goals themselves.  Think about how it would feel to be constantly revisiting the question of whether your preaching style is the best for your church.  Constant change for the sake of change (or questioning for the sake of questioning) is exhausting and potentially debilitating.

7. Stop critiquing specific mistakes in the music.

Believe me, I know I started one of the songs too slowly.  I know that my song transition wasn’t very smooth.  I know I played a G# instead of a G, the guitarist missed an entrance, the organist played too loudly, the drummer was a little off.  Musicians tend to recognize clearly, and relive regularly, their mistakes.  If your worship leader is competent and practiced, and you’re generally pleased with the work they’re doing, this may not be the kind of “feedback” they need.  Think about the kind of feedback that’s helpful to you after a sermon (i.e. will this observation help you improve in future weeks, or does it only point out a mistake?), and apply the same kind of criteria to the constructive criticism you give your musicians. 

6. Stop blaming the music when attendance is down or the budget is failing.

Enough said.

5. Stop telling us that we don’t have to do something because we’re only part-time. (Better yet, make us full-time.)

If you feel your musicians and worship leaders have an unhealthy work-ministry/home-personal life balance, you may want to address this gently with them, as a mentor and encourager.  Of course, you don’t want your staff and volunteers to burn out.  But, generally speaking, it’s a good thing if your worship leader has a ministry mindset, is striving for excellence, is excited about expanding the ministry and growing the church, and is engaged in the church as a congregant and not just as a Sunday-morning musician.  To all of us worship leaders who are wanting to give our best to the church, the encouragement to do less can sound like you’re “putting us in our place.”

Which brings me to #4.

4. Stop treating us like “hired help,” and instead engage with us as ministry partners.

Quality worship leaders care about the overall health of their church.  They, and their families, are involved in church activities outside of the area of music as congregants and members.  They tithe money, and they tithe time.  They love the church.  They love the people in their ministry.  Sometimes what they do looks a lot like “pastoral care;” other times they may be discipling or experiencing discipleship, giving and receiving fellowship. 

Pastors, guide your worship leaders to be creative and to support and further the church’s vision within their areas of leadership. Listen to and consider any ideas they may have for areas outside of music and worship. And encourage their participation in the greater life of the church.

As musicians, we know what a “gig” feels like.  We don’t want to feel that at church. 

3. Stop faulting us when we go out of town and the music is bad.

It is often our responsibility as worship leaders to find musicians to replace ourselves when we go out of town.  In small or medium-sized churches, this can be no small task.  Our reinforcements are likely from within our own congregations – volunteers or staff who are given the responsibility and privilege of leading for that Sunday, not just participating.  We do our best to prepare them—not just with skills but with confidence.  Sometimes the process of preparing for a Sunday away is so time-consuming and difficult, that we feel like we need a vacation from our vacation.  This is an area where I am often jealous of the pastor who can simply line up “pulpit supply” or ask an assistant pastor to preach.

But mistakes can happen.  I once had a pastor tell me that the back-up worship leader and musicians had done such a poor job that they should be leading worship more regularly while I was in attendance so that they would be better prepared for when I was away.  Which makes sense…  unless #2.

2. Stop punishing us when we go out of town and the music is good.

Under this same pastor, when the music went well during my absence, it seemed it was not in any way due to my preparation or training, or the team’s increased opportunities to practice. As a result of the successful worship experience, the pastor stated that he would like the back-up worship leader to lead worship even more often.  I came to the discouraging realization that the pastor preferred the back-up worship leader to me no matter what.

No church musician wants to live in fear that they will be punished (or replaced) if the music is too good when they’re out of town.  I know a church music couple who was summarily fired upon returning from vacation because the pastor liked the way the sub led worship better. Perhaps you would never dream of doing this to your staff, but, if your musicians feel this as an unspoken threat, please consider what you’re communicating. 

Which leads me to the #1 thing worship leaders wish their pastor would stop doing or saying:

1. Stop telling us you’ve got our back.

It’s a really good thing, of course, to have your worship leader’s back.  But if you have to say it, we might start to wonder what’s being said behind said back.

Instead, communicate clearly what you and the church board or elders desire of us, so that we can be confident that we are in line with the church’s mission and vision.  Then we can respond to criticisms from congregants (and, believe me, worship leaders face a LOT of criticism!) with confidence and grace, knowing that the pastoral leadership will back us up. Defend us to these congregants in helpful, graciously teaching ways.  Don’t throw us under the bus when something doesn’t go well or someone is disgruntled.

Tell us you support us, but with specific affirmations, not general platitudes.  I have heard from pastors that their preference is not for congregants to tell them, “I liked your sermon.”  Pastors would much rather know why:  what the person learned, how they were challenged, how they were inspired to grow in their relationship with Christ.  Worship leaders approach their craft in the same way, and with similar goals.  And they appreciate the same kind of feedback.

Pastors, thank you for taking the time to read and consider this list! Worship leaders, feel free to comment with your own ideas of how pastors can help you feel loved and appreciated, and inspired to serve and lead with passion and purpose!

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running anonymously

I had a revelation (small r) today, while running.

Now, some of you may love running.  Some of you may be pros.  You may have been running for a long time.

To be completely up-front, today was only my second time running.  I actually hate running.  I’ve always said that running is okay if there’s a physical goal – like a basket or a base or someone is chasing me. 

But, now that my kids are back in school, I’ve started running.  Partly because it’s a relatively cheap form of exercise, and mostly because I can do it anonymously.

Again, some of you may love exercising in pairs.  Some of you might enjoy group classes.  I personally don’t like to sweat, stink, suffer, or embarrass myself in public.

And this, friends, brings me to my revelation.  We need to go back to church.

To be honest, I’ve thought this for some time.  As a music and worship director, I never really left church.  Even when others were sleeping in, drinking lattes and enjoying brunch, snuggling in pajamas with their children– I know, the experience is probably not as cozy or lazy as I envision it– I was in the house of God making music.  So, yes, it is with a certain amount of judgment that I think that (at least most) people should return. 

But only today was I able to articulate one of the reasons why. 

I’ve heard from some who have been at home during this pandemic that they miss church.  They miss the fellowship.  They miss hearing the people around them sing.  They miss seeing people face to face.  They miss the in-person “community.”  Those people are longing to go back to church, and they probably should.

Others like being anonymous.  They may be social, but they enjoy being comfortable.  They may prefer to not be vulnerable.  They don’t like to sweat in public.  But the church isn’t meant to make us comfortable; it’s meant to challenge and support us in our race.   

And then there are people like me, who, unlike running for exercise, have been “running the good race” for a long time…   Maybe I don’t need the accountability quite as much.  Maybe I won’t be suffering or vulnerable, because I generally know what I’m doing. 

Frankly, megachurches have enabled anonymity for some time (and, not to put total blame on churches, many of us choose to stay anonymous wherever we go to church).  But now, small- and medium-sized churches are offering the same comfort in the form of a little screen.  We can “go to church” in our living rooms, and find community (maybe even serve!) in other ways – small groups on zoom, coffee with a mentor, worship with friends. 

But what if church is a place where experienced runners and newbies are meant to collide?  If the gyms are open but the athletes are at home, where can a new believer, seeker, or unbeliever find encouragement, support, or even the desire to start his or her race? 

We need to go to church for them. 

I guess since this is my blog, I can be a little harsh, like the apostle Paul.  “You were running a good race.  Who (or what) cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth?”