Tag Archives: worship

Hoarding God

We used a prayer of confession yesterday in worship that comes straight out of The Covenant Hymnal. I should probably mention that we do not, as a rule, include a prayer of confession in the order of worship. Confession might be part of the monthly Communion liturgy, or a regular feature of Lent, but it isn’t a weekly element of worship in our church. Sometimes I wish we did, but we don’t.

We added it this week, because the preaching text was Isaiah 6:1-8, in which the prophet Isaiah had a vision of God in his temple, and Isaiah’s reaction to this experience is to cry out, “Woe is me! For I am a man of unclean lips…” A seraph touches Isaiah’s lips with a burning coal from the altar, and the passage concludes with God asking “Whom shall we send, and who will go for us?” Isaiah answers, “Here am I! Send me!” Pastor Ryan wanted to draw a parallel between our order of worship and Isaiah’s worship vision, which moves from praise/adoration to confession, then forgiveness, and finally commissioning. It was good worship, and many people commented on how well it flowed, how meaningful it was to them, and how all the elements worked together.

But there was one line in that prayer, #909 in the hymnal, that stuck with me through both services, and I’m still grappling with it as I prepare an early Thanksgiving feast for my son (who will not be with us on Thursday, when we travel to his grandmother’s house).

Consider this:

“O Lord, we have conserved the bounty of your love as though it could be exhausted, and we have wasted the bounty of your universe as though its resources were imperishable.”

We have conserved the bounty of your love as though it could be exhausted. Conserved, saved, put away in a dark cupboard like jam and jelly … hoarded. And I realized, to my dismay, that this was true. I have been trying to hoard God.

Just like those folks wandering in the desert who thought they’d better collect a little extra manna “just in case, you know, we run out or something,” I try to save a little extra experience of God’s love for some time when I don’t feel so loved. And just like those folks wandering in the desert, I find that whatever I thought I was saving cannot be held in reserve. God isn’t something you save for a rainy day. God is here and now.

When the Apostle Paul was feeling sorry for himself, God told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).  There is no need to hoard that grace. It is sufficient.

How do you hoard God? What will it take to let go, and depend on that all-sufficient grace he so willingly offers?

Ground Rules and A Clarification

Thanks to all of you who read yesterday’s inaugural post, and especially to those of you who offered encouragement for this endeavor!

Now for some ground rules as we move forward:
1. I promise to post regularly, but never on Sunday.  Probably not on Wednesdays, either.  I’m a part-time worship pastor, and these two days comprise 70% of my workweek hours.  In other words, I’m kinda busy on Sundays and Wednesdays, and that ministry is my first priority.

2. Yesterday’s post was an anomaly: I won’t be using old material, as a rule. “God sings!” seemed a good introduction to my personal theology of music and worship. It tells you a lot about who I am, and who I think God is. I wanted to get that foundation laid right away, but now it is my hope to build on that foundation with new bricks.  One by one.

3. This blog is not about me.  I have avoided creating a personal blog (until now) because I know how easily I can be sucked into narcissism, and expounding daily about my personal inner life seems oh-so-narcissistic to me.  But this blog is really an invitation to conversation, so I invite you to leave me comments and interact with what you see here.  I especially invite you to disagree with me – we all need more frank discussion in our lives, I think.  “As iron sharpens iron… (Proverbs 27:17).” I promise to respond.

4. That said, let’s keep our discourse civil, shall we? I am blessed to serve in the Evangelical Covenant Church, and one thing we affirm is something called “Freedom in Christ.” You can learn more about it here. That freedom allows us to differ on non-essentials while we agree on this fundamental belief: Jesus Christ is Lord. (We agree on some other stuff, too, but this is enough to get the conversation started.)

Four Rules is plenty.

Clarification:

Yesterday I mentioned that Luther Seminary had “announced that it is eliminating it’s graduate program in church music next year.” That was a mistake.  They are not eliminating the Master of Sacred Music program, but they do plan to suspend it while they figure out how to move forward after Paul Westermeyer retires.  Here is what they posted on the Luther Seminary Facebook page on Thursday:

Luther Seminary’s Sacred Music program has been very influential in equipping excellent leaders for worship, music and the arts. We are proud of this contribution. In recent years, we’ve seen significant changes. Churches tell us their worship and music needs are changing. We’ve also experienced a decline in the number of students coming to Luther Seminary’s Master of Sacred Music (M.S.M.) program. And, Paul Westermeyer, our respected colleague and leader of the Master of Sacred Music program at Luther Seminary, has announced his plan to retire in June 2013.
Given the changing congregational needs and Paul’s upcoming retirement, we have decided to not recruit new students for our Master of Sacred Music program for the 2013-2014 school year. We will, of course, ensure that our current students continue to receive an excellent education at Luther Seminary and complete their degrees in the M.S.M. program.
The faculty at Luther Seminary is committed to establishing a vision and moving the study of worship, music and the arts forward at Luther. As part of our overall curriculum revision work, we will take this next year to explore ways to proceed and build on the excellence we’ve established in equipping leaders to meet the critical needs of worship and music in the church.
Please keep this process in your prayers as we seek God’s guidance for how we can best respond to the changing needs of the church.

Please do keep this fine program in your prayers, and pray especially for those who have worked so hard to build it into an exemplary training ground for church musicians.  I lament that Bethel Seminary, where I received my MDiv, offers no courses related to worship planning, worship elements, or music in worship.  I hope Luther recognizes its important role in the broader faith community, and handles this transition well.

What should be included in a pastor’s musical training?  What is the best way to teach pastors how to lead worship? Please share your thoughts!

God sings!

Five years ago, as I embarked on my journey into ministry, a singing colleague commented, “the world needs more pastors who can sing!” This thought has stuck with me as I ponder the ways God is prodding me toward a broader view of pastoral ministry. This week, Luther Seminary announced that it is eliminating it’s graduate program in church music next year. How will this impact the greater church? Do we really need seminary-trained musicians leading worship anymore?

Too many questions, too little time.  Let’s start here, now. Maybe together, we can find ways to keep the song alive. Meanwhile, I’m reminded of something I wrote on another blog last year. Here it is, to get you thinking, and maybe joining the conversation:

The following post appeared first in a slightly different form on the WorshipConnect blog of the Evangelical Covenant Church.  You can read more posts from other Covenant worship pastors here

Hear the beautiful five-part blessing in Zephaniah 3:17:

“The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.”

He will rejoice over you with singing. I remember the first time I read these words and realized, “God sings!” In worship, we do a lot of singing to God and about God. But consider the idea of God singing. If we are made in his image, and we sing, then doesn’t it make sense that our voices must be an echo of God’s voice?

The whole idea of ruach – God’s breath moving through our own lungs and vocal folds as an expression of his Spirit – shapes my theology of singing. Singing is putting pitch to breath. Singing is sound we make during the process of respiration. As we inspire breath to sustain a singing tone and expire that breath in a stream of sound, we conspire with others who sing alongside us. What transpires has the power to transform us, as we sing praise, prayers, scripture, and hymns that stay with us long after the song ends.

There are over 150 references to singing in the Bible. Only this verse has God doing the singing, and when God sings, he is rejoicing, loving, and protecting his people. That means you and me. Singing is a pleasant endeavor for God.

Listening means paying attention to what you hear. It is a conscious decision to focus attention, and to filter out the sounds that do not belong to that focus. I think God is singing all the time, maybe even right now singing into your heart. The challenge is to truly listen, and to join in the song.

So, what is your theology of music? How does it shape your attitude toward worship? How do you express your faith through music as you worship God with your congregation, or as you spend time in personal devotion? How does God sing into your life through his Word, and through the music that weaves together our corporate worship experiences?