Iron Worshipers

The Avengers features a confrontation between Captain America and Tony Stark (Iron Man) where Cap calls Tony out:

Cap: Big man in a metal suit. Take that away and what are you?
Tony: Genius billionaire playboy philanthropist.

But the question almost seems to form the basis of the plot of Iron Man 3. Without getting too much into spoiler territory (and without too much fear, since you’ve probably seen it if you’re interested at all), the basic theme is Tony Stark discovering the answer to Cap’s question.

Does the suit make the man, or does the man make the suit?

A few weeks ago, our church worship team was practicing the setlist before the service, and we got to a point where we were practicing worship instead of simply preparing the musical performance. When we finished, we came together for a moment of prayer. One of our awesome guitar players named Jordan shared a picture based on Iron Man 3.

In the movie, Tony comes to realize that it’s not the suit that matters; it’s his internal drive, his passion, his ability to think about problems, and so on. All the special stuff that makes Iron Man a hero is found inside Tony Stark. The armor may change, but it’s secondary to the character of the individual within.

Jordan reminded us of the various forms and structures worship has gone through over the years, from the time of the priestly ministry at the Tabernacle, and all the special pieces made to surround the Ark… to the time of David’s Tabernacle with its constant worship, where the psalmist King went so far as to invent new instruments to praise God… and historical moves in the church, with liturgy and chanting, then organ music, then contemporary bands… to hooking up computers with programmed arrangements that create a completely different musical dynamic…

Worship equipment and paraphernalia have changed and will continue to change. But the ultimate essential piece of “equipment” necessary for worship has always been and will continue to be a willing and humble heart passionate for the glory of God.

Big band on stage with the lights and all the instruments. Take it all away, and what are you?

We’re worshipers.

That thought has stuck with me for a bit now, bouncing around in my head. I like it because it marries what we do as musicians – all the technical figuring out chords and rhythms and arrangements – with what we do as worshipers – the heart crying out to God to show Himself strong in our midst. Often these are thought of as being in opposition, but they’re really two sides of the same coin.

Or two sides of the worship triangle. You may remember the concept of the “fire triangle,” which shows the three parts of a fire that are necessary for the fire to burn:

    Fuel – something has to be there to burn
    Heat – it has to be hot enough for the fire to keep burning
    Oxygen – the chemical reaction requires oxygen to take place

Take one out, and the fire dies.

Over the next few posts, I’m going to look at 2nd Samuel 6 as a source text, and I’m going to post about what I see as a worship triangle:

    Musical excellence – the structure and arrangement of fuel for the fire
    Heart excellence – putting ourselves in the right attitude to pursue God
    The Spirit – the wind, the air, the “oxygen” required for the spiritual reaction

Take one out and the worship fails.

Advertisements

May Collective

A few weeks ago, our church and partner churches got our worship teams together for the monthly Collective – our opportunity to train our minds and hearts for ministry the way we practice our instruments and vocals for performance.

Pastor Mike King shared his thoughts about worship and ministry. Some of it is specific to our church(es) but a lot of it relates to any worshiper or worship team. That’s what I’ve tried to capture here:

Worship teams aren’t resident rock stars, they’re conduits of community. They’re a key part of building connections within the Body. They’re not outside or above or separated just because they get up on stage on Sunday. We’re all going after encountering God together.

Worshipers have to consider identity – do we believe we are at least called to something?
Don’t find identity in what we do, but in who we are.

Mike uses an idea of three buckets side by side to explain this identity:
First, the Character bucket – things that fill you up and define who you are
i.e. devotion time, worship time, time with spouse, with kids, maybe some wholesome hobby.

Next, the Love bucket – glimpsing God and seeing things differently, starting to care about what God cares about, finding out what God says about us.
Knowing the love of God enables us to be a spokesperson of the love of God

Finally, the Mission bucket or Do bucket = what we do, what we’re called to.
We all love the do bucket because it’s easy, it’s what we know to do. Doing things is the default answer to any crisis or confusion we face.

We can’t find our identity in the do bucket. That’s full of what we do. We can’t start with whats. Start with why. Start with vision.

We must not be interested in notoriety, but interested in legacy. What is the impact we’re leaving behind?

Remember that everything we do is – or should be – in response to the greatness of God.

Have we encountered Him? As soon as we glimpse who He is, He reminds us who we are… not who we used to be, but who we’re going to be by grace.

So, with all that in mind, here’s five key steps Pastor King suggested:

1. Change how we view ministry in worship. Own it like you made it, like you mean it. Worship is not just the music pastor’s thing, and we all have to do his work. It’s OUR work. Change takes strong leadership and it’s not fun; we need leaders to step up.

2. Define results. How do you know where you’re going, or what your goal is? How can you communicate what the future looks like if you don’t know? Generally worship teams are way more concerned about spiritual health than ministry performance. Don’t worry about doing things, worry about what we ARE. Understand the vision on the pastor’s heart, then adopt it as yours.

3. Live transparently. Rock bottom is not a place of shame, judgment, disgust–those are the words we associate not with hitting rock bottom but with people seeing us there. We want to present the nice image. Why wait until life falls apart to change? Find accountability. Build relationships. God moving in the church is always challenged. This step is the most important thing we can do. Dangerous vulnerability, honesty, and transparency. If we can’t open the secret closet of skeletons with the people in this room, why are we serving together?

4. Take time to pause, to celebrate wins. For example, after the crazy eight service Easter weekend…. Week 1, celebrate the wins. Week 2, evaluate what we could do better. Don’t just focus on what went wrong, but be glad for what goes right.

5. Pray like you mean it. If you don’t have a prayer life, you don’t have a worship life. Our culture shifted from servants of the King to creating worship stars. Great leaders take people places that they visit often, so if we’re hoping to lead people into God’s presence, we need a personal worship life. We need time spent learning the love language of the King, hearing His thoughts about our world.

Reflection time:
What bucket do we focus on? what are we using to fill each one? what does God want to reroute in our lives?
Who are you?
What has He called you to?
Are you owning His calling in your life?
Are you responding to Jesus because of His greatness?

Needless to say, it was a challenging time of checking the direction we’re headed and the priorities we’ve set. Hopefully some of Pastor King’s comments encourage you to pursue a deeper intimacy with God as well.

Note to Self

Dear Self,

Maybe you didn’t notice, but you stopped expecting God to show up. You got used to the idea that when you play on the worship team, everything’s going to go according to the neat minute-by-minute plan, and you’ll have a whole hour in between services to drive home, pick up the wife and kids, and get back to church before the 2nd service worship set starts. There was, for a while, that nagging doubt that asked, “Yeah, but what if… Maybe today’s the day that something different happens.” But nothing unexpected happened that day. Or the next week. Or the next.

So you thought this week was just another week with three songs in the first service, five songs in the second service, maybe some measures of “free” worship in the middle. You thought the pastor would close the sermon, and there would be a song for the ministry time slash altar call, and then everything would be done.

Maybe it was a warning sign when last week’s pre-service practice turned into half an hour of pre-service worship. Maybe it was another warning sign when the worship leader said on Thursday that we needed to get the congregation to break out of that programmed “X number of songs and that’s it” mindset. Maybe you had an idea something was different when pre-service practice today turned into about an hour of worship and prayer. But by then it was too late.

So, now you know. Sometimes the congregation will hear what God is saying through the sermon, and they’re going to want to respond. Sometimes, the whole church is going to be up on their feet crying out surrender and desperation to God. Sometimes, they’re going to want to keep singing when you’re thinking, “Ok, things can die down now and we can end this song.”

Sometimes you’re going to have to dash out the door half an hour later than you planned, while the crowd is still worshiping, because you didn’t expect anything to happen and you got caught unprepared.

That time of corporate, unplanned response to God — that was what you’ve been asking for, wasn’t it?

So, why weren’t you expecting an answer?

From here on out, try to remember that God doesn’t always pay attention to your church’s service schedule in Planning Center.

Also, good job today. The experience was awesome, because the congregational response was awesome, because the worship team did an awesome job both playing with excellence and following the flow of the Spirit, and you were part of that.

So, now you know it can happen. Even if it doesn’t next time, expect that it could.

That’s called faith. God likes it, and sooner or later, He rewards it. Be looking.

With love,

Self

It’s For You

I talked a bit about great worship leaders in the last post, but now I want to focus on the body.

One of the phrases we often say about worship music in the church, and indeed the various acts of service or worship we perform throughout our lives, is: “It’s not for me, it’s for God.”

And of course, that’s a laudable humility (ironic, no?) that ensures we don’t focus on being in the spotlight, being the center of attention. Our devotion is meant for God’s benefit.

But worship is absolutely meant for us as well. As in, it is right, it is expected, it is proper, it is a duty.

Sometimes we find those aspects of church life or ministry that we want nothing to do with, and often we use the excuse that “that’s not what I’m called to” or “that’s not where God is leading me.” But certain things are universal; they apply to every believer.

God doesn’t have to “call” us to a life of communication with Him, although some will always be more comfortable with that than others. We are all expected to pray to some degree.

God doesn’t have to “lead” us to study His Word. Our desire to know Him and have our minds renewed should do that without some special unction of the Spirit, though certainly there are some who feel more at home digging into theology and Hebrew-Greek lexicons.

God shouldn’t have to “move” us to worship either – even singing should come ‘naturally’ as a believer. Singing is strongly encouraged throughout Scripture, especially in the Psalms and in the New Testament. Consider Paul’s exhortations that everyone should come with a psalm, a hymn, a spiritual song. He suggests that through singing, we can teach each other more about God. (Check 1 Cor 14:26, Eph 5:18, James 5:13, and the following.)

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. (Colossians 3:16, 17 NKJV)

Verse 17 – whatever you do in word or deed – captures the essence of worship. We see in Romans 12:1 that our spiritual act of devotion is to be living sacrifices, offered to God for His purpose.

I’m not talking about only the music we play and the songs we sing at church. I’m talking about the way we live our lives everyday, everywhere. That form of “worship” is for everyone, no special ‘calling’ required.

When we stand up to sing a hymn, when we pass the offering plate, when we listen to the Word preached, and when we sit at our desk at work during the week, we’re meant to be worshiping – doing everything for the glory of God.

Worship isn’t just for God, nor is it for the “worship team” or those who minister in various ways. Worship is for every believer, and so, without any doubt, worship is for me and you.

Good Morning

Waking up this morning, getting ready for work and today’s challenges… And Chris Tomlin’s song God’s Great Dance Floor off the newest Passion album Let the Future Begin is filling my ears, my mind, and my heart.

You’ll never stop loving us
No matter how far we run
You’ll never give up on us,
All of Heaven shouts, “Let the future begin!”

I feel alive! I come alive!
I am alive on God’s great dance floor!

With God there is forgiveness and mercy, sins and failures washed away. God’s not looking back at our yesterdays to remind us where we messed up. He’s looking forward, His grace a constant driving rhythm all around us, compelling us to forward motion.

What a great thought for the morning, when you breathe deep of the new mercies and look ahead to your day’s challenges: let the future begin, steeped and saturated in the grace of God.

Nothing A to Z related here, just some thoughts I’m having this morning.

Do you hear the beat? Let’s come alive in the goodness of God today.

50 Reasons

Special Kindle offer - 99 cents.

Special Kindle offer – 99 cents.

As it is Good Friday, I thought it would be ideal to share a special offer available on Amazon:

50 Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die by John Piper.

It’s 99 cents for your Kindle (or Kindle app on your applicable device).

Clearly Jesus was not concerned about safety, security, and comfort.

Jesus came on a suicide mission.

He gave His all, and He calls us to do no less.

Now with 20/20 hindsight and the wisdom of the saints of old, we know that the Cross was all part of God’s plan. “The LORD was pleased to crush Him” (Isaiah 53:10 NASB). And Jesus Himself – we know that He “for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising its shame” (Hebrews 12:2 NASB).

In the midst of suffering and pain, Christ called out, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” And it calls to mind how the Shepherd will leave the 99 safe sheep in order to go find the one that is lost.

The Father abandoned the One in order to bring the 99 back to Himself.

The cross of Christ – all God’s plan, all God’s glory, worthy of all our praise.

Tonight, my wife and kids will join me in taking Communion as a family, remembering the death of Christ, looking forward to a celebration of His Resurrection on Sunday, and rejoicing every day in the power of His victory shout: It is finished.

How are you commemorating this day?

Song: My Savior’s Love

Oh, no, another “modernized” hymn!

Maybe you’ve noticed this trend in Praise and Worship music over the last several years.

A treasure trove of worship ideas for us today…
…and connection to the church in generations past.

About a decade ago, Matt Redman writes about how the hymnal is a treasure trove of song ideas and powerful lyrics. Then everyone’s changing old favorites to accommodate guitar rhythms and incorporate new choruses. (Truth be told, I’m sure others had the same idea, not just Matt, and I’m sure it was happening from time to time before he wrote it.)

The first one I really remember is Todd Agnew’s remake of Amazing Grace, titled “Grace Like Rain.” He puts the hymn in a minor key, and adds a chorus in between each verse talking about how our sinful stains are washed away in the rain of God’s grace. It works.

My wife and I love to play a duet on that. She has a great violin accompaniment and I have a special riff I like on the piano for the third verse.

Then I recall “The Wonderful Cross” with Matt Redman and Chris Tomlin from Passion: One Day 2003 (maybe). “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” is combined with a driving beat and a powerful chorus that borrows from Bonhoeffer:

“When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.”

There are others. “Jesus Paid It All” is on a recent Passion album, with a powerful buildup and a passionate cry for us to “Praise the One who paid my debt and raised this life up from the dead.”

Chris Tomlin put out a version of Amazing Grace called “My Chains are Gone” with a chorus that sounds like the heartcry of a man released from his cell after years of imprisonment. “My God, my Savior has ransomed me… and like a flood, His mercy rains unending love, amazing grace.”

David Crowder Band has a version of “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee” that starts with a soft minor key chorus about singing to the passionate God who rejoices over us… before the drums kick in and guitars scream in between the verses of the familiar hymn.

Sometimes the bandwagon gets it right.

Who am I to argue?

The hymn, “My Savior’s Love” was a theme song for one of the conferences my wife and I attended several years ago on Okinawa. It seemed like we were constantly being told “Go into My Savior’s Love and let’s just stay there for a while.” (We had pretty flexible worship musicians, so we could be told, “Do this song for a bit” and it all worked out.)

Years later, I was looking at a hymnal and found the song. I remembered how much I loved the emphasis on the marvel of God’s love…

Here in the present as “I stand amazed” and “wonder how He could love me.”

In the past as I think of how “He bore the burden to Calvary and suffered and died alone.”

In the future as “through the ages”  I will “sing of His love for me.”

I also like the minor key – which to me speaks of reflection and wonder – that leads to the major key – which calls celebration and joy to mind.

Here’s a link to the song: My Savior’s Love… (I fear my singing is a bit pitchy in parts.)

And here’s the lyrics –

1  I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene,
And wonder how He could love me, a sinner, condemned, unclean.

How marvelous! how wonderful! and my song shall ever be: 
How marvelous! how wonderful! Is my Savior’s love for me!

2  He took my sins and my sorrows, 
He made them His very own;
He bore the burden to Calvary,
And suffered and died alone.

3  When with the ransomed in glory
His face I at last shall see,
’Twill be my joy through the ages
To sing of His love for me.

Sing a song of praise to God above So amazing to think of
How wonderful, how marvelous is our Savior’s love

How marvelous! how wonderful! And my song shall ever be:
How marvelous! how wonderful! is my Savior’s love for me!