Reclaiming Worship

18 11 2009

“For: The Institute of Contemporary And Emerging Worship StudiesSt. Stephen’s UniversityEssentials Online Worship Theology Course with Dan Wilt

 

“If all creation is voicing praise to the Creator, when was the last time we stopped to listen and maybe even dared to join in?”

 

In this excellent interview between Dan Wilt and contemporary theologian N.T. Wright we are provided a number of excellent insights into worship and the result of listening is a sense of grasping on to the title and “Reclaiming Worship”.

 

Often we don’t stop to consider our role as God’s Imagebearers in the midst of his creation. We are reminded that as stewards of God’s creation (roles outlined in the Bible’s first book – Genesis), we have important, if not vital roles to play when it comes to worship. If we are ‘the flower of creation’, as Wright so poetically describes us, then undoubtedly our role is huge. Have we been living up to this?? What can we do to recapture our rightful position as sons and daughters of the Saving King?

 

Perhaps the phrase that has thrust itself into my mind space has been the claim by Wright that our key role is as worship leaders of all creation!! He puts it in this way:

 

“the whole point then is to voice creation’s praise” 1

 

We are called as people to be the spokesperson if you like, when it comes to creation’s worship of its Creator. I can’t help but be reminded of Jesus’ rebuke of the Pharisees at his Triumphal Entry, as He says that if the people keep quiet and don’t worship Him, even the stones will cry out!! (Luke 19:40) We are called to lead. We are called to worship. We are called to voice creation’s praise. This is now possible through the saving grace of Jesus Christ who acts as our Mediator in worship. Wright goes on to expand on this with reflections based on Revelation 4 & 5. These two chapters contain excellent insight into the type of worship happening in God’s throne room and the responses of all involved.

 

“we have this layer upon layer of praise, all creation, human beings gathering that up, human beings recognising that something is wrong with the world and that in Christ God has dealt with it  – and so this crescendo of praise and it’s all about God and what God has done, is doing and will do.” 2

 

With this in mind, it has been interesting to travel through each day with a realisation that the surrounding creation is praising and worshipping God. More often we need to allow space to listen, look and join in with this cosmic worship that is happening daily. Cosmic worship by a creation that realises who its Master is and is surrendered completely to His will and Word.

 

As a worship leader this added dimension to the role is worthy of consideration. Wilt makes this comment in relation to worship leaders in the church and their role:

 

“we are in the role that we are in, as lead worshipers, to make a way for people to meet with God, and to create a space where simple songs can put wings to the prayers of those who have gathered to worship. We usher people gently to a place where they can respond to the love of God – it’s as simple as that.” 3

 

Not only do worship leaders have a responsibility to the gathered church but also to God’s creation. In listening and watching creation, our hearts will undoubtedly be stirred to write songs that reflect the praise of creation. This is evident in so many contemporary songs that reflect on God’s majesty as evidenced to us in the created order.

 

The grand narrative of God involves a process of restoration of so many things to their rightful state. Worship is an important part of this process and provides an experience or foretaste of what this restoration will be like. As we listen out to creation and respond to this through giving it a voice, we continue on this path to reclaiming worship and directing it to the One who deserves it!

 

 

 

(1)  N.T. Wright, Reclaiming Worship – A Training Interview With N.T. Wright (Vineyard Worship Resources, 2004), CD

(2)  Ibid

(3)  Dan Wilt, essentials*green: Online Studies in Worship Values & Spiritual Formation – Online Course Text (New Brunswick: The Institute Of Contemporary & Emerging Worship Studies), p.5





The Dignity of Humanity – What Is Our Value?

31 01 2009

I’ve Been Thinking About The Nature Of The Human Being

Essentials Blue 09

“For: The Institute of Contemporary And Emerging Worship StudiesSt. Stephen’s UniversityEssentials Blue Online Worship Theology Course with Dan Wilt

“What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?” 1

 

 

This week I have been considering the nature of human beings. After considering the nature of God in last week’s post it is quite a contrast to consider humanity with all our ambiguities and paradoxes. Dan Wilt suggests that humanity is an essential component of worship. We often negate the role of humanity in worship with statements like “it’s all about God” and although this is important to remember, we may be surprised by Wilt’s statement about worship when he claims that, “worship is not all about God alone. God has seen fit to make worship about Himself, and us.” 2

 

Wilt also suggests that, “theologians throughout history have sought to understand that strange mix of beauty and brokenness that is the human person.” 3 It is a struggle at times to see our own beauty and value (individually and as a race) when we are constantly reminded of our fallen state. When we look at the world around us historically and in the present and hear the cries of injustice we question the integrity and the dignity of humanity. This is also an interesting discussion in the face of the First Point of Calvinism – Total Depravity. Although it is a slightly different idea, a term like this (for me at least) sheds a negative light on humanity. It then takes some hard work to see humanity in a positive light. Not that we need to see these ideas as opposites and that may well be the paradox.

 

The opening quote of this post from Psalm 8, closely follows the Psalmist’s focus on the greatness and grandeur of God: “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” 4 It then continues to unpack the value of man, claiming that God, “crowned him with glory and honour.” 5 We are valued creations. Yes, we are creatures, not The Creator, but we are valued. Nevertheless we are the crowning point of creation, the flower of creation and the only part of creation that God breathed His own breath into, creating us in His image.

 

Through Christ, humanity becomes the touch point between heaven and earth. Followers of Christ, the first born of the New Creation are in-dwelled by the Holy Spirit and thus embark on the rest of life’s journey as New Creational beings with a value that has been paid for by Jesus Christ, God’s Son. We are now the temple of the Holy Spirit, the place where heaven and earth meet – an amazing idea that continues to shape the value of humanity.

 

Another strong characteristic of being human is relationship. In fact the ultimate human – Jesus Christ, is the focal point of God’s great story and we have a shared experience of humanity with the very Creator of all things, a Creator who desires relationship with human beings. We are “God-chased.” This must mean that humans have value, if their very Creator seeks after them. One can’t help but be reminded of Peter’s words:

 

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” 6

 

The promises and statements about the characteristics of humans who are in Christ, give a genuine insight into what a New Creation human looks like (and hence their value). Eugene Peterson states this eloquently in the Message by writing’, “it’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for.” 7 This is what it means to be fully human, alive in Christ, a New Creation.

 

Human beings (we) are also designed to be responsible for worship. As Dan says,  “human beings take their place as the lead worshippers of the created order.” 8 I also found N.T Wright interesting on this subject. He states that:

 

“One of the things that the church is called to do is that it is called to make articulate the praise of all creation and creation is praising God by being who God has called it to be and we humans are given a mind and words to sum that up and present it before God.” 9

 

Apart from the idea of our summative role in worship I am blown away by the simple idea that creation is being what God has called it to be, doing what it was made to do. Are we as the designated leaders of creation, doing this? We need to discover and be what God has called us to be. More importantly we need to encourage others in this too, particularly if we are in a leadership role in our community. I love the idea that we are the voice of creation. Wright goes on to say that, “it is my duty as a human being to gather up the praises of creation and present them before His throne.” 10 This is an interesting idea, particularly in the light of Jesus being our High Priest and in effect doing this with our praises.

 

So it is important to be reminded of humanity’s dignity. A dignity that sees humans as highly-valued by the God who is Creator, King, Trinity & Saviour. A dignity that is accompanied by a specific role to voice creation’s worship, to lead all things in worshiping an all-deserving God and a role of looking after and being responsible for God’s good creation.

 

 

(1) Bible, New International Version (International Bible Society, 1973, 1978, 1984), Psalm 8:4

(2) Dan Wilt, essentials*blue: Online Studies in Worship Theology & Biblical Worldview – Online Course Text (New Brunswick: The Institute Of Contemporary & Emerging Worship Studies), p.26

(3) Dan Wilt, essentials*blue: Online Studies in Worship Theology & Biblical Worldview – Online Course Text (New Brunswick: The Institute Of Contemporary & Emerging Worship Studies), p.26

(4) Bible, New International Version (International Bible Society, 1973, 1978, 1984), Psalm 8:1

(5) ibid, Psalm 8:5

(6) Bible, New International Version (International Bible Society, 1973, 1978, 1984), 1 Peter 2:9-10

(7) Eugene Peterson, The Message: The Bible In Contemporary language (Colorado Springs: NavPress 2002), Ephesians 1:11

(8) Dan Wilt, essentials*blue: Online Studies in Worship Theology & Biblical Worldview – Online Course Text (New Brunswick: The Institute Of Contemporary & Emerging Worship Studies), p.26

 

(9) N.T Wright, Scriptural Resources For Worship (New Brunswick: The Institute Of Contemporary & Emerging Worship Studies), Video

(10) ibid





God, God, God!!!

24 01 2009

I’ve Been Thinking About The Nature Of God

Essentials Blue 09

“For: The Institute of Contemporary And Emerging Worship StudiesSt. Stephen’s UniversityEssentials Blue Online Worship Theology Course with Dan Wilt

 

“First God. God is the subject of life. God is foundational for living. If we don’t have a sense of the primacy of God, we will never get it right, get life right, get our lives right. Not God at the margins; not God as an option; not God on the weekends. God at center and circumference; God first and last; God, God, God.” 1

 

It is amazing that God has revealed Himself to us. As Eugene Peterson puts it in the above introduction to the Book of Genesis in his Message translation, “God is the subject of life.” God is the subject of life for everyone and everything. It is so vital that everyone comes to a realisation of who God actually is!!

 

So many people in this generation say they believe in God, but when questioned can’t actually describe the character of this God. N.T Wright claims that:

 

“many people today have only the sketchiest idea of what Christianity has said about God. Sometimes, when people are asked whether they believe in God, they picture an image that few sensible people could believe in if they tried for a week: an old man with a long white beard (as perhaps in some of William Blake’s remarkable drawings), sitting on a cloud, looking down angrily at the mess we humans are making of the world.” 2

 

People need to be presented with and reminded of the amazing nature of God. Dan Wilt has suggested four theological snapshots of God’s character as revealed in Scripture. These are:

 

1.      God As Creator

2.      God As King

3.      God As Trinity

4.     God As Saviour

 

These four attributes when considered in their entirety have libraries of material outlining various views and perspectives. Nevertheless we humans have been given so much information about God’s character that we are without excuse when it comes to describing God. At least in more detail than the above quote from Wright suggests.

 

Another interesting idea concerning God is the idea of heaven, earth and how they relate. Often people consider God as being distant from earth and not involved in its proceedings. People often think of heaven as being a far-off place. Scripture passages in Isaiah 6 and Revelation 4 for example, give evidence that heaven is much closer than people would think.

 

When talking about Jesus role, Wright says, “in Jesus of Nazareth heaven and earth have come together once and for all. The place where God’s space and our space intersect and interlock is no longer the Temple in Jerusalem. It is Jesus himself.” 3 Jesus as the first born of the New Creation (Colossians 1) and as the one who brought heaven and earth together in such a physical way is a strong reminder of God’s Kingdom being here. The idea that heaven is “God’s dimension of the cosmos” 4, reminds us that God’s kingdom is present and near. Thus through Jesus we see His Kingdom

 

Wright also clearly points out the work of the Holy Spirit in New Creation:

 

 “The Spirit is given so that we ordinary mortals can become, in a measure, what Jesus himself was: part of God’s future arriving in the present; a place where heaven and earth meet; the means of God’s kingdom going ahead.”  5

 

We are given the Spirit to guide us as we walk in God’s Kingdom – a Kingdom that is ‘now but not yet.’ A Kingdom that has come through Jesus and which will be fully revealed through Jesus when he returns.

 

It is vital that contemporary Christian leaders paint vivid pictures concerning the grandeur of God’s character, nature and presence so that those they lead and guide come to a full understanding of who God is, particularly in the light of the four attributes mentioned above. Wilt puts it like this:

 

“’We become like what we worship,’ someone has wisely said. If our view of God is small, we will be small. If our view of God is passionate, joyful, expansive and creative, we will tend to be the same.” 6

 

Let’s have a passionate, joyful, expansive and creative view of our Great God and His Saving Love through Jesus Christ! Let us proclaim boldly with Peterson: 

“God, God, God!!!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

(1) Eugene Peterson, the Daily Message (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2006), p. 1541

(2) N. T. Wright, Simply Christian (London: SPCK, 2006), p. 50-51

(3) N. T. Wright, Simply Christian (London: SPCK, 2006), p. 81

(4) ibid, p. 81

(5) ibid, p. 105

(6) Dan Wilt, essentials*blue: Online Studies in Worship Theology & Biblical Worldview – Online Course Text (New Brunswick: The Institute Of Contemporary & Emerging Worship Studies), p.8

 

                       

 

 

 

 

 

 





Justice – Putting The World To Rights

16 01 2009

I’ve Been Thinking About The Story In Which I Live

Essentials Blue 09

“For: The Institute of Contemporary And Emerging Worship StudiesSt. Stephen’s UniversityEssentials Blue Online Worship Theology Course with Dan Wilt

 

The theme of justice has grabbed my heart in the last few months. In the text for my essentials*blue Course, Simply Christian, N.T. Wright outlines the idea of “the echo of a voice.” 1 This idea relates to different themes that are important for Christians, themes that we are often reminded of through various aspects of life. The echo is a hint of God’s deeper reality, one that maybe shaded by society or even worldview. These echoes include the celebration of creation, the longing for justice, the magnetism of relationships and the hunger for spiritual reality.

 

Wright phrases the echo of justice as the idea of ‘putting the world to rights.’ 2 This echo has been running around in my head and genuinely challenging me. Where does one start to seek for justice? How does one live a life with justice as a central theme? In this global neighbourhood how do I respond to the weight of statistics out there related to child death in poverty? Wright states that, “we all know there is something called justice, but we can’t quite get to it.” 3 It seems like the presence of such overwhelming information almost freezes me like an animal caught in a car’s headlights, unable to move or make a decision about the next step and how to respond!

 

Wright claims that, “a passion for justice, or at least a sense that things ought to be sorted out, is part of being human and living in the world.” 4 The current state of our world can often lead to big questions related to God’s place in the middle of such injustices. Wright goes on to give weight to the hope for Christians when talking about a passion for justice by stating that, “in Jesus God himself has shared this passion and put it into effect, so that in the end all tears may be dried and the world may be filled with justice and joy.” 5 This should be a great source of strength and motivation for all.

 

This thread of justice and theological thought relates directly to the process of leadership in worship. Are Christians singing songs about justice in their gatherings? I have already mentioned compassionArt in a recent blogpost and recently finished reading a book called The Art Of Compassion (definitely worth a read if you are passionate about justice) released at the same time as the CD. In this book, worship artist Tim Hughes writes:

 

“The simple truth is that we have a tendency to become blind to the truth. We somehow miss the fact that issues of poverty, justice and money are all over the Bible. We forget that while idolatry is the most common theme in the Old Testament, poverty is the second. We look blankly at the fact that one out of every sixteen verses in the New Testament tackles the subject. In the first three Gospels poverty crops up every ten verses, while in the book of Luke it’s there every seven. We read the Bible and somehow all this just passes us by.” 6

 

Sorry for the long quote but those figures are astounding!!! If we are intent on leading our church theologically as a worship artisan (a great new term used by Dan Wilt for worship leaders) then surely this can’t be ignored when looking at our song choice. This has definitely been my personal challenge in the last 6 months. Does my life reflect one that could lead such songs. Honestly….I feel no!!! But this is exactly why we need to introduce such songs into our churches and question where we sit (or stand) in response to this ‘echo’. Let’s allow God to use us as we seek to put the world to rights.

 

As a worldwide church I feel we have a great repertoire of songs that reflect God as Creator and the beauty of His nature and works. We also have a number of songs that reflect different ‘echoes’, although some themes have a surprisingly thin repertoire. The catch I think is this question:

 

How comfortable are we to choose to lead songs in church that paint a full picture of the echoes mentioned above?

 

In some communal gatherings it is difficult to choose songs of lament or maybe even songs that hunger for spiritual reality. This could be because church leadership in some cases aren’t keen on their church singing this type of song, preferring happy or uplifting songs. The challenge is to incorporate songs that reflect the many characteristics of God (I guess the varied ‘echoes’ that Wright talks about) so that those we are leading aren’t just singing about a one-dimensional God. He is so much greater!

 

 

(1) N. T. Wright, Simply Christian (London: SPCK, 2006), p. 3

(2) ibid, p. 3

(3) ibid, p. 3

(4) ibid, p. 9

(5) ibid, p. 11

(6) Craig Borlase (Ed.), The Art of Compassion – Stories Of Music & Justice (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2008), p. 94