Category Archives: traditional worship

It is Well with My Soul

It-is-Well

Many know the story of the beloved gospel song “It is Well with My Soul”, and have found comfort both in its message and the story behind the song. Horatio Spafford, a friend of the famed evangelist D. L. Moody and prominent attorney in Chicago in the 1860’s, penned the words of this song. In 1870, a series of family tragedies began with the death of he and his wife Anna’s only son at the age of four. About a year later, Spafford’s extensive real estate investments were destroyed in the Great Fire of Chicago.

Two years later in 1873, the Spafford family decided to holiday in England hoping to catch up with D. L. Moody who was preaching a series of meetings there. Delayed on business, Spafford sent his family ahead of him and while crossing the Atlantic their ship sank from colliding with another and 226 people lost their lives including Spafford’s four daughters. Anna, his wife was spared in the tragedy and sent a telegram back that said “Saved alone.” Spafford set sail for England and approaching near the location where his daughter’s lost their lives, he was inspired to write the lyrics of this well beloved song.

It is Well with My Soul
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say
“It is well, it is well with my soul.”

Refrain:
It is well (it is well)
with my soul (with my soul)
It is well, it is well with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come
Let this blest assurance control
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

And Lord haste the day, when the faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.

Each verse seems to track a very normative response to tragedy as often experienced through the eyes of faith. There is no question of the reference to his great family loss in verse one and then there is the reference to what is often perceived as spiritual warfare as we continue to reel from the effects of life’s tragedies. Much like a predator who can sniff out weakness, Satan often comes in to finish the job, whether he can be credited with starting it or not. Then, Spafford, much like many of us, comes to realize though “life” may have taken turns and experienced loss none would anticipate or desire, we realize how we too, are sinners saved by grace and even in great loss, we realize we have for more than we could ever deserve in this life or the next–mainly our freedom and forgiveness from sin! Then, in that we realize that as difficult as life may be, we have hope and assurance that it will not always be this way. One day, ALL will be restored and we will see our Savior face to face and in complete fulfillment, all will be well with our souls.

Enjoy this rendition from Jeremi Richardson (of Avalon) and the great folks at Northland Church in Orlando, Florida.

 

What songs have helped you express your faith walk and why? You can leave your comments below. (Click “Read More” to open the comments box).

Lenten Worship: Why?

Ash_Wednesday_std_t_ntI grew up in a church tradition that did not recognize much of the Christian calendar with the exception of Christmas and Easter. However, I did spend my childhood in the Northeast where Catholicism dominated the religious landscape. Coming from the “free church” tradition, most of the church calendar seasons were explained away as “empty rituals”, void of any real spiritual vitality, and for many, they were. I have discovered in recent years, however, that this does not necessarily have to be the case. Incredible spiritual vitality can be found in many aspects of the liturgical church calendar. 

I grew up Baptist, went to Baptist theological schools, did my graduate education at a Pentecostal school, and now serve in a Methodist church (and I continue to have many friends in all of those “camps”). You may look at this and think that I have no real theological convictions, or you may conclude that I will just be very happy in Heaven! Either way, having broadened my theological understanding and my denominational exposure, I have come to appreciate much of what has traditionally been referred to as the “Christian Calendar”.  Here’s why:

It helps me realize that my generation is not the only one to name the name of Christ. In an age of 24-hour news cycles, instant information and the realization that just about everything I use in my life begins with “i” and is nearly disposable (iPhone, iPad, iMac, etc.), it is healthy to realize that I am not the only one who has attempted to live this Christian life but that I am connected to a much greater “we” that has lived, died and often been martyred for Christ—those whom I will spend eternity with! The Church Calendar is a great reminder that there have been generations of faithful Christians who have gone before me.

It helps me identify and bring myself in unity with others who name Christ. Unity is vitally important both in our local congregations but also even throughout Christendom. Often we speak of unity, but yet dismiss any notion that we could or should join with other Christ followers in celebrating or honoring a holiday or period of time together that would actually both unify us and help us set our attention on Christ. Observing the Church Calendar is one way for us to have a shared experience with others who also identify with the Gospel and is a fulfillment (even if only partially) of Christ’s prayer that we would be “one” (John 17:21-22).

It helps reinforce the story of Christ into my daily life. Throughout much of Christian history we must remember that most believers did not have ready access to the printed Scriptures and illiteracy was the norm for much of the world up until relatively recent times when compared to over 2,000 years of Christian history.  The Church Calendar was developed over time to help reinforce the story of Christ into the rhythms of everyday living. When looked at fully, we realize that the calendar outlines the Gospel into specified times throughout the year. It begins with anticipating His arrival in Advent, celebrating His birth at Christmas, His revealing during Epiphany, humbling ourselves in repentance as we join His fasting in the wilderness during Lent, reflecting on His love and sacrifice during Holy Week, remembering our sin and the atonement that He provided on the cross on Good Friday, celebrating the resurrection of life at Easter, marveling at His giving of the Spirit during Pentecost, and trusting that the presence and power of that same Spirit is with us still during the rest of the year as well (Ordinary Time). While none of these aspects become more or less true during other times of the year, each season provides us an opportunity to revel in and be reminded of the vast privilege and responsibility we have in also being invited into God’s story of redemption.

So this brings us to Lent. What are the opportunities for worship during this season? First of all, in the church that I serve, we have crafted a guided time of prayer and service that will help us prepare our hearts and minds for the ultimate celebration of Christ’s triumph at Easter (you can find this by “liking” our Facebook page www.facebook.com/mountpisgahumc). Many will also join in a time of fasting. This may range from a complete fast of food to simply giving up a comfort, convenience, or repenting and seeking forgiveness of even what might have become a “weight” or besetting sin (Heb. 12:1).  There is also something very powerful in substituting something that may be harmless, harmful or destructive for something that is hopeful, heart-felt or constructive and developing new habits that will help us to more faithfully live out Christ’s story in our daily lives. This does not negate being yielded to the constant work of the Spirit in our lives, but allows us to form better habits that help shape us while being more conscious of His working within us at increasingly greater and deeper ways as we grow in Him.

As is the case at any time, worship is ALWAYS a matter of the heart.  Just as anything else, any ritual can become trite or be done out of selfish motivation. However, there are seasons of the year that lend themselves well to denying ourselves and forming new habits that can help form us more into the image of Christ. I have found that Lent can be such a season and I look forward to seeing Christ formed in me and others as we make a more concerted effort to focus ourselves on Him.

Do you plan to observe Lent this year?  Is it something you will do on your own or will you be joining a local community of faith in a shared experience?  What ways could churches from both the “free church” and liturgical traditions better enable their people to have more meaningful shared experiences outside of gathered worship? Click “Read More” to leave your comments below.

For more information about the church calendar or the Lenten season:

http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/ash-wednesday

http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/what-is-lent-and-why-does-it-last-forty-days

The United Methodist Book of Worship (link to Abingdon Press)

Discover the Mystery of Faith by Glenn Packiam (link to Amazon.com)

Worship: Old and New by Robert Webber (link to Amazon.com)

Does God Care About My Preferences?

applesIn discussing corporate worship, the idea of preferences comes up a lot. While our preferences help to shape us into who we are, not all preferences are created equal. I’m not speaking of whether someone likes rock, hip hop, or classical (though this definitely applies here), I’m speaking more that there may be better questions.

In a recent Facebook post I made a brief statement thanking my wife for picking me up a bag of cortland apples and made some offhand, tongue-in-cheek remark of how those apples can “change your life”. Several responses (much more than normal for me) followed of both curiosity about these particular apples and several opinions of why another’s choice of apple was superior to my own. While I will never understand why anyone would not enthusiastically agree that a Cortland apple is, by far, the best apple on the planet, this brief exchange between me and a few of my Facebook pals may have something to teach us all. Below are three thoughts that I hope can help to inform us to ask even better questions.

1. God is far more concerned with His purposes than with our preferences.

“But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations.” – Psalm 33:11

Does God know that I like Cortland apples? Sure he does! He created me and whether the propensity for this preference is somehow genetic or the result of the region in which I grew up or some combination of both, I’ll let the scientists decide that. However, it is no secret to God. However, in the grand scheme of God’s kingdom and His greater purpose, does my preference of Cortland apples really change the world? —No, most definitely not (as much as I hate to admit!).

In regards to how we look at corporate worship, I think there are also some applications here as well. In Kingdom and covenant living, it is important that we be asking the better questions of “what is God’s purpose and how can I join Him in it?”. Also, “…what is the greater good of the faith community of which I’m a part and how can I help fulfill my calling and gifts to serve the body?”

2. God knows there is a greater joy that is far deeper and more meaningful than our own personal, temporal pleasure.

And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1b-2

There is no greater example of the life that is offered to us, than what we see in Jesus. Christ’s ultimate purpose was to glorify the Father by reconciling the world to Himself. He has called us to join Him in that purpose as well and has given us the “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:19). When we align with God’s greater purpose, seek to know Him and make Him known, we set ourselves up to experience a far deeper and greater joy than any temporal preference could ever offer us.

God has called us to build bridges with the culture around us as we seek to engage in the conversation of reconciliation, and often, that means that we may be inconvenienced and uncomfortable as we seek to relate and get involved. I can’t imagine what it must have been like for Jesus to leave His rightful place in Heaven to come to earth to live, move and walk among us. It was a great sacrifice, but He also knew there would be a greater joy.

3.  Our personal freedom is not primarily for self-consumption, but for the context of a covenant relationship

In the garden of Eden, God presented a choice to Adam and Eve. Without the ability to choose, love is not love. Love is a choice to seek the good and welfare of another ahead (and often at the expense) of our own. That is what our freedom should ultimately be about. Living in affluent materialism in the West has inadvertently taught us that our primary and most patriotic duty is to “consume” while the Kingdom economy is more about creating and giving. We all have preferences and that is totally ok!  However, our preferences are not created as much for consumption as they are for us to enjoy the grace of giving (and receiving) in a covenant relationship.

In my story of the apples above, this story may look a lot different if I took a different approach to my preferences that looked like this: 1) I like Cortland apples 2) Everyone should like Cortland apples 3) As head of my home, I demand that all of my family not only eat, but prefer Cortland apples. Boy, that sounds fun, doesn’t it?

I may get what I want more often, but at the expense of all of the relationships around me. However, my wife’s simple thought at the grocery store was way more fun for both of us. I don’t think she even ate one of those apples, but she was thinking about me and I think that’s pretty cool! If I know her, she probably got even more pleasure from giving them than I did in eating them.

A Better Way

In our culture and in our churches, it is a good reminder for all of us to be reminded of our covenant relationship with God, His Church and our ministry of reconciliation. How do our decisions, choices and preferences play into God’s greater purpose and how can we join Him in that?  These are the better questions. And in the mean time, as we are busy making much of Him and becoming the people He desires us to be, in His infinite grace, He may just surprise us with some “apples” of our own.  So. Does God care about our preferences? —Absolutely, but maybe not the way we may have thought. How do you like them apples? :-)

How have you seen this in your own life?  What other questions should we be asking?

Vision, Values and Lowell Mason

Park Street Church

Boston is a great city. Every time I have the opportunity to visit, I’m brought face to face with its blend of remarkable history and its current relevancy and influence in the current affairs of today. I’m currently sitting in the Thinking Cup Cafe (hoping this really helps me!) across from Boston Common reviewing notes on the life of Lowell Mason, a great church musician,educator,entrepreneur and Boston native. I’m presenting some of this research as part of an intensive class I’m currently teaching at Boston Baptist College. Yesterday in class we were discussing the importance of having a working philosophy of music and worship for those in worship leadership. I came across this summary of Mason’s outlook on church music which I found to be interesting. This was compiled by Carol Pemberton based on a lecture Mason gave in 1826 at the Hanover Street Church in Boston.

  • Church music must be simple, chaste, correct, and free of ostentation.
  • The text must be handled with as much care as the music; each must enhance the other.
  • Congregational singing must be promoted.
  • Capable choirs and judiciously used instruments, particularly the organ, are indispensable aids to services.
  • A solid music education for all children is the only means of genuine reform in church music.
  • Musicianship per se is subordinate to facilitating worship.

While some of the relevancy of his thoughts above may be questioned today (though much of it is quite valid), I would also suggest that his influence continues because he took the time to write it down and share it with others. I would like to share a few thoughts for worship leaders who are currently working out their own thinking regarding corporate worship and encourage those who are not currently thinking about this to begin to work it out in their own minds and begin to incorporate it into their ministries. If the majority of evangelical churches spend close to half of our corporate worship gatherings being involved in congregational music and expression, I believe it is important that we have a sound rationale for why we behave this way. I think there are some important things we can consider regarding working out our values for corporate worship and why that matters today.

A working worship philosophy will prevent you from being forcefully bound to antiquated traditions.

If you’ve seen the musical “Fiddler on the Roof”, you can recall Tevye and his uncompromising love for “traditions….(insert Russian music)…traditions.” Like Tevye, often we find ourselves blindly bound to the way things have always been. Now, there’s nothing wrong with traditions, necessarily. They can provide us with structure and stability so that we can pour our energies into the most important things in life. There is no sense in reinventing the wheel. Occasionally, however, it doesn’t hurt to question these “wheels” and evaluate their effectiveness. I don’t know about you, but I’m glad the Wright brothers thought outside the “wheel” and found a better way to travel. As was the case with these revolutionaries, anytime you question established norms, you will have your critics and skeptics who wish you anything but the best. But based on principle, good information and determination, they pressed on and now most of those critics, if they were alive today, would gladly get on an airplane for a far away trip when given the option. When our traditions stand in the way of our core values, it’s time to rethink the tradition. Jesus, in Mark 7, had some things to say about this as well. The Pharisees had taken the Law and added their own interpretations and applications to it. While the creators of the traditions mentioned in Mark 7 may have had the best of intentions, by the time Jesus gets on the scene, these traditions were standing in the way of real life transformation. When our traditions do the same, it’s time for honest reevaluation.

A working corporate worship philosophy will keep you from being aimlessly swept around by passing fads and public opinion.

Most of us can probably hear our mother saying with that certain tone, “If the rest of your friends [insert rediculous metaphor here], would you do it too?”. You have to admit, “mamma” had some wisdom there, as annoying as it may have seemed at the time. Many of us should ask the same question of our leadership now as well. Often we make mistakes when we try to emulate others’ success in a different context and thoughtlessly apply it to our own. There are some exciting trends and advancements in the arena of corporate worship today. Using modern instrumentation, visual aids, creative planning and communication can all be excellent tools in sharing the timeless message of the gospel. The danger is often, that because prominent ministries are using certain tools and techniques, and have an appearance of “success”, without thinking, we assume that these same tools and techniques will work in our context as well. They may. They may not. Borrowing from the words of Stephen Covey it’s important that we “begin with the end in mind” and not get too quickly awestruck by the latest and greatest methods when they have little value to our own context or environment. At the same time, staying current with the latest trends and developments in your field can help you to be more informed and often more effective. Don’t be afraid to think outside the “wheel” on your own as well or you might might miss the next “flight”. Who knows, maybe you will be the next trend setter! Having a working worship philosophy will free you to be innovative while ensuring that you also remain effective.

A working corporate worship philosophy will provide purpose, freedom and direction for the future.

One of the questions I’m asked most often is “where are we going with the worship program at our church?”. This is a valid question and may indicate that I have not been as effective as I need to be in communicating the vision and principles that drive us. Having a working worship philosophy and set of values that you faithfully communicate to your team can go a long way in making sure that this question is answered for your people as well as creating better by-in for your ministry. It helps to ensure that your decisions are made on purpose and can help give some of us “creative types” better confidence in the decisions that we make by knowing that we have made decisions based on timeless principles, rather than letting our desire to be creative get in the way of being effective. In those times when your creativity makes you more effective, then by all means…create away! This does not mean that there is no room for creative expression for its own sake (and for God’s glory). It simply means that in the context of community, creativity should always be employed with the responsibility to edify the church as a whole.

Your vision and values will also help give you freedom to explore all of your creative options without the fear of nullifying your current progress. Once you have effectively identified your purpose, you have the creative freedom to explore every possible option that can help you and your church express a greater love and devotion to the Lord. Our nations founding fathers knew the value of marrying freedom and responsibility. For example, the deliberations of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 were held in strict secrecy and consequently, anxious citizens gathered outside Independence Hall when the proceedings ended in order to learn what had been produced behind closed doors. A certain Mrs. Powel of Philadelphia asked Benjamin Franklin, “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” With no hesitation Franklin responded, “A republic, if you can keep it.” Much like the implication of responsibility in Franklin’s answer, our spiritual freedom in worship is best exercised in the context of serving and edifying the church.

In the same way our nation’s founding documents help to preserve certain values, they have also helped to provide direction and vision for the future. Your vision and values can work for you in much the same way. While our nation has strayed from many of the principles that were established early on, because of the effort of these men and the providence of God, we still have a constitutional republic that is free from tyranny and stands as a beacon of freedom and opportunity for many. Even though the early founders of our country probably could have never imagined airplanes, cell phones, or the internet, the principles they laid down helped to pave the way for the freedom to innovate in the future. Your vision and values can do the same for you. I may not know exactly what corporate worship will look like 5-10 years from now for the congregation I serve, but I do know that I am committed to the core principles and vision that will help us to be intentional, effective and creative for future generations.

What are you doing to develop and communicate your core values and vision with your team? Please share your thoughts and anything that is working for you. In the next post, I will lay out the process I have used to develop these resources for myself.

%d bloggers like this: