I’ve been reflecting lately on the issue of church architecture and the extent to which the space we inhabit as a church informs our understanding of God or the church’s mission in the world or the Christian life or Christian community. Of course, there is a sense in which the New Testament reflects a movement away from sacred space (temple) to sacred person (Christ, and those “saints” gathered in his name), from spiritual building to spiritual body – the body of Christ (see Ephesians 2:14-22; 2 Corinthians 316; 6:19). But does this mean, as one architectural historian has observed of certain forms of Protestantism, that “The temple of stone or wood is no more than an insignificant shell surrounding the living congregation of the faithful which assembles within its walls”?
Entries from October 2008 ↓
I’ve been enjoying and profiting from reading Worship Matters by Bob Kauflin, Director of Worship Development, Sovereign Grace Ministries. Bob recently spoke at the Desiring God National Conference. His talk was entitled: “Words of Wonder: What Happens When We Sing.” Definitely worth checking out! You may also want to check out Bob’s website, Worship Matters.
October 21st, 2008 — Personal
Why should a pastor blog? I’m a pastor, and for me this is a very serious question. It’s a serious question for a simple reason: I’m accountable for how I spend my time. I’m accountable to my elders and congregation; I’m accountable to my wife and children; and I’m ultimately accountable to Jesus Christ, to whom I shall one day give an account for not only “every careless word” (Matt. 13:36), but every wasted minute.
So it’s a serious question. But it’s also a complicated one, complicated because I have a limited amount of time and yet a seemingly unlimited number of demands on my time! (We all feel that way, don’t we?). Thus it’s a constant challenge to decide what to prioritize. And does blogging really rise to the top of the priority list?
As I reflected on this, I was grateful to read about the benefits of blogging from Michael Hyatt, President and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers. In his post, “What I Have Learned in Four Years of Blogging,” he offered the following lessons (in brief):
- Blogging helps me clarify my own thinking.
- Blogging has given me first-hand experience with emerging technologies.
- Blogging has provided me with a mechanism for instant feedback.
- Blogging has given others a “peek behind the curtain.”
- Blogging has given me a way to engage my employees.
- Blogging has helped me bypass traditional media when necessary.
- Blogging has made our company more visible.
- To write.
- To teach.
- To recommend.
- To interact.
- To develop an eye for what is meaningful.
- To be known.
Between these two lists, there’s plenty of helpful stuff to chew on. But I must say, I don’t find either list to provide an entirely compelling rationale for blogging for a pastor, for spending several hours a week (or more!) posting comments and managing a blog site. These benefits notwithstanding, doesn’t a pastor simply have to many other kingdom-expanding, time-consuming, people-oriented, soul-elevating activities to be about?
Reflecting on this question recently, a phrase of Scripture suddenly flashed into my mind: “as long as it is called ‘today’.” The phrase comes from Hebrews 3:
“Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.” (Heb. 3:12-14).
And at once it dawned on me: here in these verses I think we have a compelling rationale for a pastor to blog. Since the remarkable technology of blogging allows a pastor to fulfill this biblical imperative in a unique and even historically unprecedented way: Through regular blog posts, I can encourage others, as often as possible, wherever they are, whoever they are, to fight unbelief and hold fast to Jesus Christ till the end of their days and the end of days, as long as it is called ‘today.’ And that’s, I believe, a compelling rationale for a pastor to blog!
October 19th, 2008 — Ministry
Despite changing attitudes in the Western world toward children and childbearing and childrearing, my experience has been that barrenness is still, for those who suffer from it, a source of deep disappointment and heartache. That book of ancient wisdom, the Book of Proverbs of the Old Testament, includes the barren womb among those things never satisfied:
“The leech has two daughters.
‘Give! Give!’ they cry.
“There are three things that are never satisfied,
four that never say, ‘Enough!’:
the grave, the barren womb,
land, which is never satisfied with water,
and fire, which never says, ‘Enough!’ (Prov. 30:15-16).
Here, strikingly, barrenness is numbered alongside that other primordial affliction upon humanity: the grave, death itself. Because of this, it is perhaps not surprising that barrenness serves as an important symbol and theme in the Bible. In fact, in a number of the stories in the Old and New Testaments barrenness is as a key feature of the development of the plot, and, more importantly, a key obstacle to be overcome by the grace and power of God. So we read that all three of the wives of the patriarchs of Israel, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, were barren for a season (11:30; 25:21; 29:31). We read that Hannah, the mother of Samuel, the last great Judge of Israel, was barren (1 Sam. 1:1-20). And we read that righteous Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, the herald of the Lord Jesus himself, was barren (Luke 1:7).
However, I believe there is something particularly bitter about barrenness, which is why barrenness and bitterness often go hand-in-hand in the heart of those afflicted and affected. There is, understandably, of course, something deeply vexing about wanting to bring forth life, and yet not being able to do so. This is because there is nothing closer to the core of our common humanity than the impulse to bring forth life. Fertility, or, to use the biblical idiom, “fruitfulness,” is one of the reasons why we were created in the first place: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth,” God said to Adam and Eve in the Garden (Genesis 1:28). Hence, I believe, the deep bitterness of barrenness, because the barren woman is not able to do, in a very real sense, one of the very things she was created to do.
Yet while the bitterness of barrenness is understandable, it can also be toxic. In fact, bitterness is often poisonous. It is corrosive. It is debilitating and distracting. Indeed, bitterness about this one thing, barrenness, has the ability to sour everything, the whole of life. Ironically, as in the case of the bitterness of barrenness, it can in the end be life-taking, not life-giving. What, then, should I do if I am wrestling with the bitterness of barrenness?
- First of all, don’t be bashful about bringing your bitterness before the Lord. God is big, and big enough to handle your bitterness. He might not be pleased with how bitterness has worked its way into your heart – bitterness is, after all, a sign of unbelief – but He is certainly big enough to hear what’s on your heart: your disappointments, your frustrations, your anger, your heartache. Don’t hesitate to express this to Him. If you have a lament or grievance, set it down in front of the Lord. Stop carrying it on your back. There are myriads of examples throughout the Bible of disappointed saints, who do just this sort of thing. In fact, the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, knew first-hand the anguish of disappointment as he hung from cross for the sake of our sins and cried out in a loud voice: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34).
- Second, we must remember, as much as we might like to choose to forget, that barrenness is part of our fallenness. We live in a world wrecked by sin, and one of the consequences of sin is barrenness, a failure to conceive. In fact, barrenness, as with the grave, is one of those painful yet profound reminders to us all that all is not well with the world. What was intended to bring forth life, the womb, does not and indeed sometimes cannot. This is the byproduct of sin; the barren womb is one of the casualties of the Fall.
- Third, as hard as it is to embrace, we must affirm that God is sovereign over the womb, whether in birth or barrenness. It is He who closes wombs in barrenness, and it is He who opens wombs in birth. As was the case with Hannah, the Bible says the Lord “closed her womb” (1 Sam. 1:5). And as was the case with Rachel, the Bible says the Lord “opened her womb” (Gen. 29:31).
- Fourth, we must use the bitterness of barrenness, as with all disappointment, as an occasion to turn to the Lord in repentance and faith - not unbelief. “Is it not from the mouth of the Most High,” says the writer of Lamentations, “that good and bad come? Why,” he goes on to say, “should a living man complain, a man, about the punishment of his sins?” (3:38-39). Instead, he instructs us, “Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the Lord!” (3:40).
- Fifth, we need to remember the steadfast love of the Lord amidst hardship and disappointment and embrace the fact that His mercies, though not always obvious, “never cease” and are “new every morning” (Lamentations 3:22-23).
- Finally, we need to look to that brighter Day, when all, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, will at last be made right. Then God Himself will “wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4). Barrenness, as with death itself, will be one day be swallowed up in victory (1 Corinthians 15:54-55)!
I was grateful to see the varied, vigorous and, I think, fruitful response to the posting on “Authentic Worship Leading is Like Authentic Preaching.” I was not altogether surprised to see discussion centered around my adaptation of Lloyd-Jones’ characteristic #5: “The worship leader must be serious, never light or superficial.” Being serious and yet “lively” (#6) and “warm” (#8) is indeed a delicate balance.
As it relates to preachers, as Lloyd-Jones points out, we must remember that the preacher is dealing with “the most serious matter that men and women can ever consider,” namely, God and the eternal state of their souls. So, too, again, I think the same could be said of the worship leader: he is dealing, so to speak, with the most serious matter that men and women can ever consider, namely, God and, in a very real sense, the eternal state of their worshipping souls.
On the seriousness-engendering nature of this stunning realization, I remember a wonderful quote I read a number of years ago from Annie Dillard’s Teaching a Stone to Talk:
On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return” (pp. 52-53).
While I whole-heartedly agree that we as worship leaders must always avoid putting on an air of somberness or austerity, posing for God-entranced earnestness, we must also remember with what – or, rather – with Whom we’re dealing. When it comes to worship, I suspect what our churches these days really need is less cheerfulness and more crash helmets.
Recently, I’ve been reflecting on the parallels between what a preacher does on Sunday morning and what a music or worship leader does. What I’ve come to better appreciate is that authentic preaching is very much like authentic worship leading. Something I read in Preaching and Preachers, by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, helped me see the parallels more clearly. In his chapter on “The Act of Preaching,” he identifies twelve characteristics of authentic preaching. I think they provide an excellent description of true, authentic worship leading.
- The preacher involves his whole personality in preaching.
- The preacher exhibits a sense of authority over the congregation.
- The preacher is thoroughly prepared, yet thoroughly free.
- The preacher derives something from the congregation; there is exchange.
- The preacher must be serious, never light or superficial.
- The preacher must be lively, never dull or boring.
- The preacher must exude zeal, gripped by what he is saying.
- The preacher must be warm, never clinical or cold.
- The preacher must have a sense of urgency – something eternal is at stake!
- The preacher must be persuasive, pleading with souls.
- The preacher must have pathos, a deep love for those to whom he preaches.
- The preacher must have power, since true preaching is God-acting!
So, too, I think it is true that:
- The worship leader involves his whole personality in worship leading.
- The worship leader exhibits a sense of authority over the congregation.
- The worship leader is thoroughly prepared, yet thoroughly free.
- The worship leader derives something from the congregation; there is exchange.
- The worship leader must be serious, never light or superficial.
- The worship leader must be lively, never dull or boring.
- The worship leader must exude zeal, gripped by what he is singing or saying.
- The worship leader must be warm, never clinical or cold.
- The worship leader must have a sense of urgency – something eternal is at stake!
- The worship leader must be persuasive, pleading with souls.
- The worship leader must have pathos, a deep love for those whom he leads.
- The worship leader must have power, since true worship leading is God-acting!
As Lloyd-Jones says, “Preaching is something that one recognizes when one hears it” (Preaching and Preachers, p. 81). So, too, let me suggest that authentic worship leading is something one recognizes when one hears or, perhaps better, sees it. And these twelve characteristics go a long way to describing more exactly, not just what authentic preaching is, but also what authentic worship leading is.
A few have asked for the quotes related to postmodernism from yesterday’s sermon entitled, “Grace and Peace,” from Colossians 1:1-2. My first point was that “peace is the purpose of Colossians.” My third point was that “peace is the achievement of grace.” My second point – intended to demonstrate the relevance of the first and third points – was that “peace is the longing of these postmodern times.”
I sought to illustrate this second point, that peace is the longing of these postmodern times, by pointing to two examples: that of the consummate postmodern person, on the one hand, and the consummate postmodern community, on the other.
The first, the postmodern person, comes from one of the more provocative and influential American philosophers, Richard Rorty, Professor of Humanities at the University of Virginia. In the introduction to his Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity, Rorty sketches a figure he calls the “liberal ironist,” or what I referred to as the consummate postmodern person. Rorty explains:
I borrow my definition of ‘liberal’ from Judith Shklar, who says that liberals are the people who think that cruelty is the worst thing we do. I use ‘ironist’ to name the sort of person who faces up to the contingency of his or her own most central beliefs and desires – someone sufficiently historicist and nominalist to have abandoned the idea that those central beliefs and desires refer back to something beyond the reach of time and chance. Liberal ironists are people who include among these ungroundable desires their own hope that suffering will be diminished, that the humiliation of human beings by other human beings may cease” (p. xv).
In trying to identify a second example, that of the consummate postmodern community, I didn’t have very far to look. In fact, I only had to go as far as the Village of Oak Park website, where I then downloaded the community’s Diversity Statement. Here are the relevant paragraphs (the entirety of which can be found at: http://www.oak-park.us/public/pdfs/2003%20diversity%20statement.pdf):
The people of Oak Park choose this community, not just as a place to live, but as a way of life. Oak Park has committed itself to equality not only because it is legal, but because it is right; not only because equality is ethical, but because it is desirable for us and our children. Ours is a dynamic community that encourages the contributions of all citizens, regardless of race, color, ethnicity, ancestry, national origin, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, marital and/or familial status, mental and/or physical impairment and/or disability, military status, economic class, political affiliation, or any of the other distinguishing characteristics that all too often divide people in society.
Oak Park’s proud tradition of citizen involvement and accessible local government challenge us to show others how such a community can embrace change while still respecting and preserving the best of the past. Creating a mutually respectful, multicultural environment does not happen on its own; it must be intentional. Our goal is for people of widely differing backgrounds to do more than live next to one another. Through interaction, we believe we can reconcile the apparent paradox of appreciating and even celebrating our differences while at the same time developing consensus on a shared vision for the future. Oak Park recognizes that a free, open, and inclusive community is achieved through full and broad participation of all its citizenry. We believe the best decisions are made when everyone is represented in decision-making and power is shared collectively.
Now, in neither of these examples do you hear the language of peace. Yet you certainly feel the longing for peace in both, don’t you?
Finally, let me conclude with a few observations.
- First, we won’t understand these postmodern times in which we live unless we come to terms with this underlying longing for peace, which, in my view, drives the whole outlook.
- Second, as Christians we must not scorn or despise, much less mock, postmodern expressions of a longing for peace, whether in the form of a bumper-sticker or an anti-war march, since a longing for peace should be our longing too.
- Third, as Christians we should let the “peace of Christ” (Col. 3:15) so shape our lives, both individually and corporately, that it becomes evident to all that only in the Gospel can one find the peace we all long for.
For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross (Colossians 1:19-20).
Listen to this sermon from October 5, 2008
October 1st, 2008 — Personal
I’m taking the plunge – or launching off, as the case may be – into the blogosphere. But enough for now . . . more anon! Time for bed.