God takes care of details

It’s amazing how perfect God’s timing is in medium-to-large issues as well as amazingly small details. This past Sunday in particular was one of those days where God’s providence stood out. Our wonderful drummer Alonzo was sick, but it happened to be a Sunday when my brother (a drummer and worship leader) was visiting with his family. Wow.
 
For me personally, I know that sometimes Sunday afternoon and evening can be a lonely time in the heart of church musicians. Was what we do effective, impactful, or not? Did it help to edify the congregation in worship? Is it even “ok” to wonder about that or is that my own pride and vanity coming into focus? (Or is it perhaps the lies of the Enemy looking for an place to take root?) Well… this evening I received two separate emails from members of the congregation – each with a word of Godly encouragement for the ministry of music that we provide in the worship services – never praising the music itself, but for the way that it lead us to hear, to sing, and to receive the Word of God in our hearts. This is encouragement for everyone involved in the CSPC music and worship ministry to hear!
 
I started this post thinking that supplying a drummer was the “medium” issue and the encouragement was the small detail… but now I think I may have had those items reversed. Either way, God has very practically reminded me of his timing, providence, and extra-personal “I-know-all-your-insecurities-and-still-choose-to-reach-you” grace abounding. The God who created the universe and breathed life into the cosmos cared deeply and personally enough to send a couple of emails and a drummer.
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Worship Matters Quote…

This quote from Bob Kauflin’s Worship Matters struck me this week – I hope you find it helpful as well:

Although we never know exactly how people are going to respond during a meeting [time of worship], we tend to reap what we sow. If our leadership focuses on musical experiences, we’ll reap a desire for better sounds, cooler progressions, and more creative arrangements. If we sow to immediate feelings, we’ll reap meetings driven by the pursuit of emotional highs. If we lead in such a way that we’re the center of attention, we’ll reap a man-centered focus, shallow compliments, and ungodly comparisons. (Worship Matters, pg. 59)

Download: The Church’s One Foundation

Here’s a new arrangement of the hymn “The Church’s One Foundation”, text by Samuel Stone, tune “AURELIA” by Samuel Sebastien Wesley. This arrangement was written for guitars/bass/drums, piano and organ. We sang it at Cedar Springs using the four stanzas printed, although you may choose to use different stanzas.

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Click to download a PDF of this chart

Now for some background on this hymn, courtesy of the excellent book “The One Year Book of Hymns” published by Tyndale House. Samuel Stone’s ministry work during the mid 1800’s was located in the outskirts of London, near Windsor on the Thames. He was regarded as a fundamentalist and stood in opposition to the liberal theological tendencies of the day. He was also very protective of the people in his congregation, many of whom lived under the threat of violence from local crime gangs. Samuel was not afraid to take them on in order to shepherd his flock.

This hymn, and many others, was written when he was 27 years old as a part of a collection of hymns based on the Apostle’s Creed. Two years later in 1868, Anglicans gathered from around the world to discuss theological issues that were tearing the church apart. They chose this hymn as the processional for their historic conference.

– Adapted from “The One Year Book of Hymns” – August 15 devotional.

Just As I Am

Sunday’s music in worship was interesting – and not necessarily in a good way. We were having sound system problems and I got frustrated to the point of pulling out my fancy in-ear monitors and deciding to watch our drummer and listen for the pipe organ to get any sense of what was happening sonically.

Going through my head halfway through the second verse: “Ugh. This is not going well. I bet the choir is not happy. I bet our worship leader is about to explode… and why shouldn’t he? This is a mess. I can’t worship like this.”

And that’s when it hit me – I actually in the midst of a worship service, helping to lead a congregation, and I am allowing circumstances as meaningless as the operation of microphones and speakers to dictate whether or not I will worship and glorify God. “I can’t worship like this.” Those words stung and convicted. What in the world is my problem?

You could say that I simply want to offer my absolute best in worship – and while I certainly hope that is true, that was not the foundational problem this time. That would be a generous pat on the back to make me feel better. But I know better.

I want things to be right, because on some level, I want to be why they are right so that I can offer that “right”-ness to God. Then, maybe He will love me and be proud of me. I want other folks to experience something done well and know that they know I had a part in bringing it about. This is the ugly, jealous, and sinful heart of pride, and as a church musician, I am particularly vulnerable.

I am thankful that my experience in worship yesterday included enough problems to expose and convict me of my prideful heart, but not so many problems as to affect our congregation. I looked out and saw a congregation giving of themselves freely in worship, singing praises to God. Seeing them and the faces of the worshiping choir members helped bring me back to a place where I could again lift up my own heart to God, knowing that He loves me.

God convicts us just as we are – not so that we may remain broken, but so we may be emboldened by His love and power to put our whole trust and faith in Him rather than trying to fix everything on our own. God loves me, but not because I can offer anything or do anything special. I have nothing to offer except what He has already given me. As John Wesley says in his covenant prayer, I can be “used for Thee or set aside for Thee” – but in either case, it is to His glory. We are loved by God, and it is not because we have done anything to earn it. His love is simply extravagant. It is the cup that overflows.

Soli deo gloria – to God alone be the glory.

 

Passive-Aggressive Worship Wars

“I don’t like the electric guitars…(or the pipe organ)…”
“Oh, he’s preaching? I guess we will miss this Sunday…”
“I like it when she leads worship – she’s better than that other singer…”

“I follow Paul…”
“I follow Apollos…”
“I follow Cephas…”

For the past six weeks our pastor, John Wood, has been preaching through the opening chapter of 1 Corinthians. I encourage you to listen to or watch those sermons, starting with August 7, 2016, at www.cspc.net/sermons.

First, let me be clear: Paul is addressing the church in Corinth; he is not writing about the worship wars of the American church. He is talking about the foundational and counter-cultural message of the cross of Christ. As a prelude to this message, Paul has denounced the dividing of the Church that happens when people declare their allegiances to different leaders due to their particular gifting in rhetoric, personality, or other attributes. This is still happening today, and it is still frustrating and heart-breaking.

The other day I received a note in my box that complimented me personally on the music for the worship service the previous Sunday, and then noted that part of the reason it was better that day was that the electric guitar player was absent and “the voices could be heard.” In other words: I follow you, not that other musician. To get even deeper, I believe that the writer meant: I “worship” better when I get what I want.

While this is an isolated incident, it’s not nearly as isolated as it should be. It also points to the need for constant vigilance against division in the church, especially in the area of music. We all have our personal likes and dislikes about music, but the thing about our personal likes and dislikes is that they don’t matter.

Passive-aggressive attacks disguised as compliments reveal our hearts. They show us when we have taken music and made it into an idol. My very livelihood consists of serving as a musician of the church, but hear me say: do not worship the music, the organ, the guitar, the gifts of the singers or the style of the songs. Encouraging those who lead worship is a wonderful thing, but it is turned to evil when it contains words truly meant for division.

We are to work for unity in the Body – setting aside our personal preferences (which tend to be like a child who only wants to eat their familiar favorites) and embrace a larger vision of God’s kingdom. Music can be a wonderful part of worship, but it is never to be worshiped itself, nor are we to use it to split the congregation into factions. When we preach Jesus Christ crucified, we gain an eternal perspective and abundant joy, abounding in power and truth. Let that be our focus, and let that be our life.

Soli Deo gloria.

Youth Choir worship

No, this post is not about worshiping your Youth Choir. Instead, this is what role worship has within a youth choir program.

For many years, my youth choir programs consisted of committed young men and women who generally liked to sing. They also generally believed in the messages of the songs that we were learning – which were mostly musical settings of Psalms – as well as hymn arrangements, spirituals, and generic-Christian gospel songs. Rehearsals opened or closed with prayer, and often I would touch on the text during rehearsal in order to have a teaching/devotional moment with the choir. The rest of the spiritual development I left in God’s hands.

On tours, we would have devotionals every evening, announcements, and usually recognize a senior or offer a goofy prize for something that had happened during the day. The students and chaperones were always so tired though that sometimes it felt like a final hurdle to overcome before bedtime. On retreats (when we had them), I offered more intentional worship opportunities – and was always a little disappointed when they felt sterile or foreign, which was just about every time. I think that because of this, I backed away from incorporating worship into the regular life of the youth choir.

At some level I must have decided that developing a spirit of worship within the choir was not worth the time. Besides, we had too much music to learn to spend time on it. Our tour days were too full to add worship to the itinerary. I didn’t always feel like worship myself.

I now kneel, humbled and ashamed, and ask for God’s forgiveness for the years of missed opportunities. Lord, have mercy upon me, a proud, busy, self-confident sinner.

I realize now that I was asking the choir to run before it could even crawl. I was offering a rich banquet of food to a choir of people who had only experienced graham crackers and apple juice.

We who lead choirs are leading worship, and that doesn’t mean music. The first priority of the choral ensemble is to be united in worship, lifting up hearts and voices to God. We must practice it. We must develop it and make it a regular part of our time together. I must embrace worship with the choir, knowing now that rather than a burden, it is such an opportunity to allow God to speak to our very soul.

There are always notes to learn. Time is always limited. It will never be perfect. But the time spent in worship with my choir is a treasure that surprises and leads me into the very presence of God.

When you experience the transformational power of worshiping with your choir, you will be amazed at the way God leads His people. Don’t let the years and opportunities go by, and don’t get your priorities backwards. Lead, develop, and model worship and pray with your choir – knowing that our Heavenly Father uses all of our gifts for far more than we can ever hope or even imagine.

(One resource I recommend is the Passion-Driven Youth Choir)