Tagged: worship

Reflections on Gratitude and the Holy Supper

gratitude

Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? 1 Cor 10:16

Eucharisteo is the Greek word for gratitude.

The posture of thanksgiving is what the biblical narrative points to as the proper posture of the imago dei in man. This stands in contrast to our North American culture of excessive hoarding and addiction through the gratification of insatiable desires. Hans Boersma makes the observation that this is quite understandable since our words is astonishingly beautiful: “When we smell, when we taste, when we hear, when we see, when we touch—the pleasure that follows can be overwhelmingly powerful.” But the purpose of our lives is not for increased gratification of the instinctual sort. What separates us from animals and what makes us rightful candidates of the imago dei—that uniquely human calling to image the Creator—is a posture of eucharisteo: gratitude. But not just any gratitude, but the kind that leads to self-giving, the kind that recognizes that all of creation—all that we can taste, touch, smell, hear and see—is merely a gift to be offered back to God.

In response to Jesus’ instructions, christians have made what has come to be known by countless names (holy communion, eucharist, holy supper, etc) as the definitive marker of the Christian identity.

“Do this in remembrance of me,” Jesus said. Then word “communion” refers to the greek word, koinonia, which is also translated as fellowship, and participation. This special Christian act is precisely that: fellowship, participation, a unique and unexplainable mystery of entering into the Trinitarian life. And as we enter into the life of the Trinitarian God, we are launched into a life of eucharisteo.

To be authentically human, according to Christian faith and practice, is constituted by the posture of thanksgiving that leads to self-giving.

Paradoxically, and in opposition to everything we’re told by a culture of rampant consumerism, a life of gratitude is the life that is most satisfying of all.

Studies have shown that gratitude in itself is a healthy posture, and daily practices of expressing gratitude will contribute to happier life. But who are we to thank? How we answer this question will determine whether or not we will move from thanksgiving to self-giving.

Discipleship is More than You Know

Discipleship

Over the last half-decade of church work I have wrestled with what it’s supposed to look like for churches to practice discipleship.

The models of church that I’ve seen most are built on the idea that discipleship means accepting ideas about God.  The more “truth” you know about God, the greater disciple you are. But discipleship is not about having information, because if it is, the disciples weren’t really disciples after all. Let’s just say they didn’t have their systematic theology in order. For the disciples, and for us, discipleship is more than you know.

At the180 we are looking at how there are moments in life that we need the courage to unlearn the bad habits we’ve picked up on our journey. Jesus often calls his disciples and listeners to unlearn something—which is hard, scary, and takes courage.  The sermon that kicked off our series on unlearning reminded me of how we tend to reduce the Great Commission to “coming to church to be a christian”, instead of “going out to make disciples.” The church at large has come to the conclusion that disciple-making means giving people a list of things to believe and then making them do the same.

But Christian discipleship is much more than some heady acceptance of ideas about God.  Jesus didn’t commission his disciples to make us into great consumers of ideas or “absolute truths.” This discipleship thing has to do with our hearts, heads and hands.

Here’s something: discipleship is a word Christians use but it’s not something only Christians do. Discipleship happens to every human. Every person is being discipled all the time—something is drawing us into its way of life, teaching us a way of living that we believe will bring satisfaction. Another word for disciple is learner, but not the kind of learner that sits in a classroom to receive ideas, the kind of learner that follows a person in the way that he/she handles life, relationships, people, money, everything. Ideas play a small part.  Apprenticeship might capture what discipleship entails—being with someone long enough to become a lot like him or her. And it always happens in communal spaces, like with friends around a dinner table or a sports games.

“It’s about life!” my professor Rikk Watts is know for saying. Discipleship is about life in the most comprehensive sense. It’s about being with Jesus in order to do what he does. It’s asking the question (thank you Dallas Willard) “what would Jesus do if he was me?”

One of the things we talk about at the180 is how the church is made up of those who are “called out of the world to go back into the world.” If discipleship is more than cranial consumption, if disciples is more than you know, and discipleship has to do with the way we live, then the church needs to be more than a dispenser of ideas. The church learns to be “the called out ones” in a sacred space to rehearse the life of the kingdom through the practices of singing, eating, and sharing together around a common Lord. And it’s in this space that we learn to be disciples together–learning to live the Jesus-life–so that we can go out and make disciples.

 

 

Mirror Dimly

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We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us! 1 Cor 13:12 (MSG)

In the “love chapter” Paul provides a beautiful metaphor to explain our earthly limitations. As long as we await Christ’s second coming, life is experienced as through a mirror dimly.

Paul is talking about the different parts of worship that revolve around scripture; singing, tongues, prophecy, preaching. These are gifts to the church to foster and serve love.  If love for God and for one another is not the motivation and goal of worship, then it is nothing more than a clanging cymbal; an out-of-place and misleading distraction.

Paul goes on to say that we see through a mirror dimly because we are still infected by sin, despite our standing with Christ. The metaphor calls attention to the act of seeing, not to the mirror itself:  we do not see a “dim mirror.” It is the act of seeing which is limited by dimness-a foggy overcast that beckons us to humility.

A mirror is used to see a reflection–of yourself, of others, of what’s around you. Scripture is the mirror that we see in order to know God and to know ourselves; it is the breathed out words of God that are without error and profitable for training in righteousness. But my reading of Scripture is faulty and broken, and until I come to grips with this reality, I will not serve love. Without an awareness that I am unable to know and interpret Scripture in its entirety, I will be a clanging cymbal.

Today, Christians are bombarded with skepticism around Scripture. We are told not to trust the Bible because it’s archaic and erroneous. The temptation will be to defend the Bible’s reliability in ways that ignore human limitations-we insist on the certitude and clarity of Scripture; we simplify what is complex and ignore the impaired capacity of a dim vision.

Some are afraid of the uncertainty of what I am proposing. Don’t we want people to be confident in the reliability and authority of Scripture? Yes. But what is the purpose of the authority of Scripture but to form God’s people into who they were called to be? What I want for Christians is to trust in the power of Scripture to shape their lives; and that we don’t need to know all the answers for that to happen. Perhaps the power of the Scriptures–its authority to shape our lives–is only effective when we approach it with humility. Uncertainty is what compels faith, and it is in the uncertainty–in the dimness of our vision–that God encounters us and we begin to really, and truly see. That alone will serve love.

Psalm 1 & 2: The Already and Not Yet of Blessing, Worship, & Hope

I love the Psalms. Here’s a reason why:

Structured like the Pentateuch (on purpose), it is 5 books into one. We’re given a doxology to mark out the end of one book and the beginning of the next (24, 72, 89, 106). The individual books were particular collections (i.e. “From Korah”), and eventually put together into one.

The Psalms, in the format that we have them, were probably not completed until Israel’s post-exilic period. They represent many centuries of Israelite worship.

We shouldn’t encounter them as a loose collection but as a book. They aren’t randomly scattered, but it seems clear that in the compilation, there is a consciousness of what is going on.

Psalm 1 is a great case study.

What’s is curious about this psalm is that it is not a prayer but a blessing; a blessing for those who go on the right way in contrast with those who do not. The reader is greeted not as a worshiper but as a journeyer, an individual not as a group. Private mediation on the law is commended. It implicitly provides an important point of entry for the whole book; inviting the reader into blessing by lawful mediation, guiding the reader on how they are to read.

Chapter 2 seems to be read in continuity with chapter 1.

Chapter 2 is kingly. As mentioned, what is interesting about the whole book, this anthology was only put together after the exile, yet there were no kings in Israel at that time. This raises the obvious question, why include psalms in an anthology closely tied to the king when there is no king? Here’s why: language of Kingship in the prophets often point to the eternal kingdom established by God’s Messiah. Conclusion: Psalm 2, and the other “royal” psalms are understood to refer to a king to come, and in that way they become messianic texts. In fact, Qumran writings interpret them as such.

Eschatological hope becomes the context for worship.

Psalm 1 outlines 2 ways for individuals and psalm 2 outlines 2 ways for nations. This is about messianic future and righteous government, with a here and now dimension while holding in tension the future hope; the already and not yet.

The Psalms provide a place of identification with the post-exilic people of Israel. We, like them, are in a state of tension, experiencing our own Exodus journey, and like them we can proclaim in hope that “we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (Heb. 13:14).

He is faithful.

Attending to Jesus

I’m observing Lent for the first time.

Again I am reminded of Paul’s prayer, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Phil. 3:10).

From a devotional I am using, Lent is described as

“a season of preparation and repentance during which we anticipate the death (Good Friday) and resurrection (Easter Sunday) of Jesus. It is this very preparation and repentance – aimed at grasping the intense significance of the crucifixion – that gives us a deep and powerful longing for the resurrection, the joy of Easter.”

The purpose of Lent then, is to meet with Jesus. My prayer is that he would meet with me, so I’ll be attending to Him. Not simply when I have devotionals or time set apart for prayer, but my hope is that I will be attending to him wholly, fully, as I study and research for school, as I spend time with friends, as I work, that I would be attending to Him, waiting on Him to meet with me.

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps. 139:23-24). 

Music and Bach: Rethinking Spirit Led Worship

hands-music-musician-piano

I’ve been wondering about the musical mechanisms we have employed in Christian Evangelical circles. I’m thinking of the two very different modes of musical worship – one which hold’s thoughtful and systematic planning in high regard, and the other which hold’s spontaneity in high regard.

I’m trying to think this through objectively, though of course, as a critical realist, I never reach strict objectivity because I, we, can’t escape our context and the biases and presuppositions that come with them. So then, for me to be “critically realistic,” I must take into account my subjectivities and interpretive lenses that have formed my thinking.

I will say that as a musician involved in leading worship and playing drums, I’ve experienced both: spontaneous and planned.
I’ve heard it said, that strictly planned worship simply does not allow the work of the Spirit; unless there is room for spontaneity. I understand the concern. My question is: what assumptions are intrinsic to this thinking? Why is it that Christians in my tradition (not all of them of course, but many), have equated spontaneity with some higher work of the Spirit?

Yesterday, in Christian Though and Culture class @ Regent, we looked at The Enlightenment and its effects on Christendom. The lecture was titled: ‘Lord of Reason: The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative in the Modern Era’. What resulted from this self-explanatory title, was a fundamentalist escape from culture. The Fundamentalist movement, which Mark Noll describes as being “intellectually sterile,” had absolutely nothing valuable to say about or contribute to culture:

“As a result of following a theology that did not provide Christian guidance for the wider intellectual life, there has been, properly speaking, no fundamentalist philosophy, no fundamentalist history of science, no fundamentalist aesthetics, no fundamentalist novels or poetry, no fundamentalist jurisprudence, no fundamentalist literary criticism, and no fundamentalist sociology” (The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, 137).

Thankfully, prior to the rise of Fundamentalism, there were leaders within the Evangelical movement that were quite different. Jonathan Edwards, John Wesley, and George Whitefield are those often mentioned, but the one who has stuck out to me, was Johann Sebastian Bach.

I am no expert on this man (or anything really… except maybe eating), but I do believe that those who have equated spontaneous, unplanned songs of worship with a greater move of the Spirit can learn a thing or two from Bach.

He is known for many things, he is known for his incredible ability to have very “rational” and mathematical music. More importantly, he was able to fuse this rationalism with his theology. This may seem normal for us today, but back then, rationalism and mathematics were seen as causes of “the eclipse of the biblical narrative” within society. His music, what I would like to point out, was far from spontaneous. But if something is Spirit empowered music, it’s his. He teaches us that, as James Macmillan has written, “abstract complexity and spiritual joy are not mutually exclusive.” He is sometimes called the “fifth evangelist,” and that for a reason.

Surely, most readers will not understand the latin in his music, but one must ask, what have we done with music?

I’m not trying to speak against spontaneous music, since many believe that in it, there are greater forms of art (which is probably also questionable).

To get back to the question, what assumptions are intrinsic to this thinking – the thinking that spontaneous music is more spiritual? Maybe we can’t answer that definitively, but we can at least re-think what really is “Spirit-led” music.

This brings up other questions: God has given us many gifts; Scripture, reason, art, experience, tradition. How are we using them? Is the idea that a spontaneous “letting go and letting God” mentality in music really a means of the Spirit of God being ‘allowed to flow’? Could that be just laziness? Could it be that with all the gifts that God has given us, and if we consider that since our fundamental calling is to be Human, and that as Human, we are called to Cultivate (essentially, to Create Culture), should we not be making the best of what we have with our God-given skills ? Would not these things bring greater glory to God? I think these are important questions that need evaluation.

Here’s one piece Called “Agnus Dei in G minor” – Paul Hofreiter sums this piece up:

“The most intense solo in the entire work is the Agnus Dei in G-minor. This angular music makes strong use of imitation between the alto voice and the violins, creating a bridge between humanity and divinity as Christ offers his body and blood for the salvation of humankind. The jagged and chromatic nature of the music in the aria demonstrates the profound reality that Christ has, indeed, participated in our humanity in all its anguish and death. There is no mistake for Bach in the understanding of the purpose and reason for Christ’s death.”

Also, for more info on this subject check out http://jan.ucc.nau.edu/tas3/musicon.html

Ye Holy Angels Bright

In 1681, on the year that his wife died after 19 years of marriage, Richard Baxter wrote the words for the hymn Ye Holy Angels Bright.

Ye holy angels bright,
who wait at God’s right hand,
or through the realms of light
fly at your Lord’s command,
assist our song,
for else the theme
too high doth seem
for mortal tongue.

Ye blessed souls at rest,
who ran this earthly race
and now, from sin released,
behold your Savior’s face,
his praises sound,
as in his sight
with sweet delight
ye do abound.

Ye saints, who toil below,
adore your heavenly King,
and onward as ye go
some joyful anthem sing;
take what he gives
and praise him still,
through good or ill,
who ever lives!

My soul, bear thou thy part,
triumph in God above:
and with a well-tuned heart
sing thou the songs of love!
Let all thy days
till life shall end,
whate’er he send,
be filled with praise!

Searching for Truth

My journey is like Moses who went on the mountain in Exodus 24 in search for God. Or at least my convictions tell me that it should be. He was in search of true theology, while his people waiting for him decided they’d come up with their own theology. One that served creation rather than creator. It came by their impatience and desire to worship.

Moses went up the mountain, was there for a long time, and sought God. My prayer is that my theology would also be formed through prayer. There are many books and commentaries and denominations that interpret biblical theology differently, giving us various “religions” under one theology.

My belief is that there are strengths and weaknesses in every denomination. This places me on a search for truth. Others may be in a place where they too are searching for correct theology, and maybe some believe they have found it. Wherever you are, I pray that you wouldn’t be defined by your denomination, whether Reformed or Pentecostal, or something else, but you would be defined by prayer, not prayer itself, but the result of prayer. In order for this to happen we must be passionate about truth. Truth that doesn’t waiver. Truth that may sometimes offend. Truth that may be hard to swallow.

Moses went up the mountain, Jesus went to a desolate place, and we too ought to seek divine truth in momentous occasions of faith: prayer fueled by our desire for unrelenting truth.