Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Christ Centered Ministry and the Gospel Coalition

In Worship by the Book, Kent Hughes recounts a story about E.V. Hill, former pastor (now deceased) of Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church.
E.V. told of the ministry of an elderly woman in his church whom they all called “1800” because no one knew how old she was. On unsuspecting preachers “1800” was hard because she would yell, “Get him up!” (she was referring to Christ). After a few minutes of the messages, if she didn’t think it was happening, she would again shout, “Get him up!” If a preacher did not “Get him up!” he was in for a long hard day. Dear old “1800” was no theologian, but her instincts were sublime. True worship exalts Jesus. It cannot fail to “Get him up!” because both testaments lift Him up. There is nothing more important, and more salutary for the church, than Christ-centered worship.
I share this story because it relates to the focus of the conference I attended with Josh Malone (our Pastor of Young Adults) several days ago. The Gospel Coalition is the attempt by an association of pastors and theologians to create impetus toward a gospel centered movement within the church.

This coalition grew, in part, out of the observation that the Evangelical world is highly fragmented. There are those who are clinging to an overly individualistic and overly systematic approach to evangelism/mission and others who are focused upon community and social justice but are living out these values in the context of eroded orthodoxy. This coalition believes there is a third way that can excellently fulfill the values of personal conversion, community formation, and cultural renewal within a context that is both Biblically faithful and culturally relevant.

To some, the idea of a coalition like this appears to be too theological and academic. In response to this, I have come to realize that there is a deep-seated worldview in many of those leading in today’s churches that keeps the church from being missionally effective. This worldview, in many cases, is grounded in some erroneous theological assumptions that were formed through tradition or in some faulty aspect of seminary education. If we try to make changes in the church without addressing the worldview that is grounded in false theological beliefs, then we will continue to hit brick walls in our attempt to bring about needed reformation.

I am very thankful that many of these issues are being wrestled with at Parkview and in the universal church. In the words of “1800” we must not neglect to “Lift him up” in all we do. I believe a gospel centered movement has the potential of ending the gridlock that fragments us and, by God’s grace, helping us to more effectively fulfill God’s mission.

For a more detailed summary of what this movement is about you can check out Josh’s summary on his blog here. The Gospel Coalition site will have conference video/audio and other documentation available by mid-June.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Religious Affections

In Jonathan Edwards’s treatise The Religious Affections he expresses that true followers of Christ are characterized by love, faith, and joy. According to Edwards, the affections (heart, inclinations, will, passion) of a believer will be consumed for the Lord. So, where do your affections lie?
For although to true religion there must indeed be something else besides affection, yet true religion consists so much in the affections that there can be no true religion without them. He who has no religious affection is in a state of spiritual death, and is wholly destitute of the powerful quickening, saving influences of the Spirit of God upon his heart. As there is no true religion where there is no religious affections.

If the great things of religion are rightly understood, they will affect the heart. The reason why people are not affected by such infinitely great, important, glorious and wonderful things, as they often hear and read of in the Word of God, is undoubtedly because they are blind; if they were not so, it would be impossible, and utterly inconsistent with human nature, that their hearts should be otherwise than strongly impressed, and greatly moved by such things.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Value of Community and Participation

I have had a growing conviction in recent years regarding the importance of participation in community worship. I find it interesting that, depending on whom you speak with, there are sharp disagreements regarding how we can best foster participation specifically within the singing portions of the service. Some say that people participate most enthusiastically when the music is loud and they can no longer hear themselves. In this setting they will be far less concerned about what other people are doing or singing, far less insecure about singing out, and consequently they will be far more likely to participate freely. The problem with this view is that it tends to be a bit individualistic (i.e. if we can be loud enough as to drown out everyone else around you, you will be more confident in your participation and have a better experience). Another view proposes that the key to musical participation is a room with live acoustics and soft instrumentation so that you can hear everyone else in the room singing with you. This view tends to have a strong emphasis on the communal experience with little regard for the integrity of the contemporary musical genre, which is highly dependant upon a louder rhythm driven sound mix.

Though I am sure a debate on these views would make for a lively comment string, I would like to focus on the unifying factor in both views, namely that all sides desire for people to participate wholeheartedly in community worship. All this to say that you would be hard pressed to find any music leader in a church who would prefer that people sit with lips sealed during a time of community singing. Now, if we agree that participation is an important goal of community worship then we can begin asking questions like “why is community worship more ‘special’ than individual worship?”

In the technological age we live, this is an especially interesting question to ask. Our people should leave our services having experienced musical worship and teaching that can’t be matched by what they can download in a podcast or view on their high-def TV. Why is this? Well, mainly because there should be a dynamic and beauty experienced in community that cannot be matched individually. Robert Rayburn explains:
When there are a number of worshipers present, there is a participation in worship which is more intense than is the individual passion of any one of them when he is by himself. It is common knowledge that a mob is more cruel than any individual in it would be by himself. Symphony is more intense than that of a single music lover sitting by himself listening to the same music. God has so created man that there are deeper delights and more intense inspiration in the worshiping congregation than in individual devotion.
If we believe the value of community as portrayed here by Raybum and modeled in the New Testament church, then we should all have a passion for participation. In response to this passion we should care more deeply about creating a context that encourages participation and intensifies the community experience. In light of a present re-design of our mission, vision, and values at Parkview I am beginning to consider myself as much a Pastor of Community Development as a Pastor of Music and Worship. How will this elevated value effect services at Parkview? Only time will tell. One thing for sure, if we are all truly serious about the value of community in corporate worship, then we should take a second look at how to elevate this value in every aspect of our programming, implementation, and evaluation of community worship.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Legacy of Laughter

Jeff Foxworthy (Redneck Comedian) recently delivered a comedy routine at a funeral in Fayetteville, Georgia. This is a pretty cool story about a man who wanted to leave a legacy of laughter. You can watch the video here.

(HT: Challies)

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Racial Reconciliation

This is a really good article by Tim Gombis on the Resurgence blog regarding racial reconciliation. Below is the introduction to the article. Go to the whole thing here.
In the thinking of many Christians, the notion of racial reconciliation does not have a direct relationship to the gospel of Jesus Christ. We may agree that Christians of different ethnicities ought to get along, but many would also be hesitant to recognize a demand in the gospel along this line. After all, the thinking goes, the gospel is the message that all people need to "get saved." Each individual human is alienated from God because each of us is a sinner, and we need to ask Jesus into our hearts so that we'll go to heaven when we die. And, while we might agree that it would be nice if there were all sorts of races in heaven, and we probably should do our best to get along here on earth, if we don't, we can be thankful that this is no threat to the gospel.

I will argue in this article that this is not a proper understanding of the gospel message, and that rightly grasping the gospel entails a commitment to reconciliation of all types—including, perhaps most specifically, ethnic, or racial, reconciliation. Let me first offer a definition of what I mean by "racial reconciliation": Seeking to foster fruitful community life across racial and social boundary lines—lines of division that seem to be "normal" in some sense but have been perverted by Satan and human sinfulness, so that communities do not regard each other with respect and dignity, seeking mutually fruitful relationships, but with suspicion and fear, which lead to exploitation and manipulation of all types.

I will argue, from Scripture, that racial reconciliation is not simply something nice that Christians should be doing, a sort of add-on to the gospel—nice, but not necessary. It is at the very heart of the gospel. Reconciliation is the gospel, and racial, or ethnic, reconciliation—in a divided America, and in a divided world—provides a perfect arena to manifest and to live out the reconciling grace of God. Because of this, to persist in passive avoidance of racial/ethnic reconciliation is to misunderstand the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Monday, May 21, 2007

The Innkeeper

Ok, I know this is way out of season, but something triggered my memory of this poem written by John Piper back in 1986. Every year John writes an advent poem for his congregation. In this poem he is exploring the perspective of the innkeeper who allowed Jesus to be born in his stable. The setting is Jesus, as an adult, going back to visit the innkeeper. I have NEVER made it through this poem without weeping. What a moving picture of suffering and redemption (especially moving from a parents perspective).

Here is a link to the poem on the Desiring God site. I strongly suggest you click on the "listen" link and listen to the rendition of Piper reading the poem with underscore. It is far more moving that way. If you can't get the audio to work, you can read the poem at the same link.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Wear Your Helmet

I enjoy biking, but usually don't wear a helmet when riding in town. I am reconsidering after seeing this article about a guy whose head was run over by a truck. Because he was wearing his helmet, he was not injured. Here's the full story.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Characteristics of a Missional Church

OK, I am officially becoming a Tim Keller fan. I took a few minutes tonight to peruse through the Tim Keller videos on youtube that were posted by the team who ran the postmodernism conference I attended in Minneapolis last year. This is a good clip on what it means to be a missional church. Tim articulates very well how it is we must relate to non-believers if we wish to be missional. Establishing context is key.

Along a related vein, here is a video from Mark Driscoll on how Christians should relate to sinners. Definitely thought provoking.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Neglected Ascension

Ascension Sunday is the 7th Sunday of Easter according to the liturgical church calendar (something we don’t really follow at Parkview outside of major events such as Good Friday or Easter). This year Ascension Sunday is May 20th. This month Ron Man’s Worship Notes is dealing with the significance of Christ’s ascension which we can read about in Luke 24:50-53. There are some important things for us to understand about Christ’s ascension and present state at the right hand of the Father. For one, it affirms the renewing work of God to restore physical creation. Below is the opening quote from Ron’s opening article. You can read the entire thing here.
Popular conversations about the incarnation tend to focus on the nativity stories and on the earthly life of Jesus… Many think that the ascension really means the shedding of Jesus’ human nature, as if Jesus is now simply a spiritual presence who used to be human, someone whom we remember with affection rather than someone we expect to see face to face someday. A full-orbed understanding of the incarnation will also proclaim that the incarnation continues, that it is the incarnate Christ who has ascended. Jesus is our contemporary, not a historical figure from a dead past. He is living now, interacting with us now, and standing now in a human body in the presence of the Father. He is praying for us now, leading our worship now, feeling our pain now, sharing our humanity now. (Laura Smit, “The Incarnation Continues,” Reformed Worship 79, 4)

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

My Job Title is Ridiculous

“Worship” is an English word that Evangelicals have grossly abused for years. Being the Pastor of Worship and the Arts at Parkview, I am in circles that are continually referring to the musical portion of the service as the “worship”. According to many, when does the teaching come? “After the worship.” When asked how was the worship today? Many reply, “Oh, we sang some of my favorite songs today in worship.” According to D.A. Carson “The notion of a “worship leader” who leads the “worship” part of the service before the sermon is so bizarre, from a New Testament perspective, as to be embarrassing.” (P.47 Worship by the Book) One reason this term is so often misapplied is because we truly don’t know what the word means.

The reality is, “worship” is a very difficult word to define. This is in part because numerous Hebrew and Greek terms in the Bible are all translated into our one word “worship”. This means words with entirely different applications and meanings are all lumped into our one word. On top of this, the Biblical contexts for how worship was applied and understood historically are numerous and diverse. Defining this term is indeed a difficult task.

One thing we know for sure is that worship under the new covenant is part of everything we do. The “cultus” (liturgies/practices) of the Old Testament were replaced under the new covenant. Levitical priests were replaced by the priesthood of believers (1 Peter) and Jesus the high priest (Hebrews). Jesus body (John 2:13-22) and the church became the new temple (1 Cor 3:16-17). In short, worship no longer happens in a place, but it happens in a person (Jesus) and a people (the church). Worship is everything we do and no longer depends upon any institutional structure or physical building!

What’s my point you may ask? My ultimate hope is to decentralize and deinstitutionalize our application of worship. Though I don’t expect this to happen, perhaps churches should start putting worship at the head of every staff persons job description (i.e. the Pastor of Worship and Preaching, Pastor of Worship and Youth, the Director of Worship and Children, etc…). We should also recognize that our grossly narrow application of the word worship (i.e. a time on Sunday, takes place in a building, is a musical style, requires special music, accompanied by Sunday school programs, etc…) is far more formalized and culturally restrictive than Biblical. Of course, I don’t expect my thoughts on this issue to radically transform the westernized use, application, and understanding of the word “worship” but I would love to see some measure of reform take place. A proper understanding of worship could transform our lifestyle and loosen our grip when it comes to forms that restrict the missional movement of the gospel within our churches and communities.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Zach Nielsen Songwriter Extrordinaire

I just found out that Zach Nielsen (former worship leader at Parkview) just had one of the songs he co-wrote while in Nashville released on the new "Women of Faith" CD. It's called "For Who You Are" and you can buy it on Itunes here. One of the other songs he co-wrote is coming out on a "Point of Grace" CD in the near future. You can read a few more details on Zach's blog here. Congratulations Zach!

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Stay-at-home Mom Is Worth $138,095 A Year

It is fitting as Mother's Day approaches to post on this recent Reuter's article that was first referenced on Justin Taylor's blog. My wife is a wonderful wife and mother who works as hard as any woman I know. Based on this article in Reuters if she was getting monetarily paid for her career as a stay-at-home-mom she'd be making $138,095 a year. Though her investment as a mom is reaping a far greater pay-back in the growing and healthy lives of our kids, it's fun to see a more concrete measure for the huge investment that goes into being a mom. Go here to see the article.

Monday, May 07, 2007

We Become Like Our God

In the book Worship by the Book by D.A. Carson suggests that well-fed sheep (Ps 23:2) are given a diet of worship that calls them to “deepen their grasp of His ineffable majesty in His person and in all His works.” In response to this we will live differently. According to Carson “worship, properly understood, shapes who we are. We become like whatever is our god.” In some ways this idea seems complex, in other ways it is simply “you are what you eat” morphed into “you are what you worship” (admittedly reductionistic, but I think you get the point). Carson then shares the following quote from Peter Leithart.
It is a fundamental truth of Scripture that we become like whatever or whomever we worship. When Israel worshipped the gods of the nations, she became like the nations-bloodthirsty, oppressive, full of deceit and violence. Romans 1 confirms this principle by showing how idolaters are delivered over to sexual deviations and eventually to social and moral chaos…. Along these lines, Psalm 115:4-8 throws brilliant light on the Old Covenant history and the significance of Jesus’ ministry. After describing idols as figures that have every organ of sense but no sense, the Psalmist writes, “Those who make them will become like them, everyone who trust in them.” By worshipping idols, human beings become speechless, blind, deaf, unfeeling, and crippled- but then these are precisely the afflictions that Jesus, in the Gospels, came to heal.
I share these quotes, first of all, because it is personally convicting. What I stand for, my passions, my behaviors, my likes and dislikes all reflect the focal point of my worship. It is a good and healthy thing to question our allegiance and examine our hearts (Psalm 139:23). An important step in growing is being wakened to the reality that we are inclined to idolatry and then filling our vision with God’s “ineffable majesty”.

The other reason I share this is because those of us in music and arts ministries must resist our inclination to “own” responsibility for people’s experience and obedience in the worship service. Certainly we must do all we can to prepare a service that exalts God and gives people the opportunity to fully participate in community worship; however, their response to the Lord is beyond our control. This should be a great source of comfort for those of us who tend to concern ourselves a bit too much with the affirmation of man. Once we have done our best to be faithful stewards of the ministry entrusted to us, we must surrender the results to the Lord and pray that the people will redirect their life-worship to God. Once God is their focus their lives will respond in faithful obedience to Him.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Grass-Root Elites

Who are today’s most influential people? The wealthy? The politicians? The athletes? Several weeks ago I listened to a talk by Tim Keller that was given at the most recent Resurgence conference. In the talk he was sharing his thoughts regarding how the church can effectively win today's culture. One of his points was that we must win those he called the “grass root elites.” Who are these people? According to Keller they are the young creative types. Many of these people are working for companies that are shaping today’s youth culture. A few examples of these companies would be MTV and Facebook.

In the recent issue of Fast Company Mark Zuckerberg, the 22-year-old CEO and founder of Facebook is featured for his gutsy decision to turn down a buy-out deal for $1 billion dollars from Yahoo and Viacom. Facebook, a website that connects people in social networks, was started by he and his roommate several years ago while they were students at Harvard. Things were going so well that they dropped out of school in order to divert more attention to their growing business. What I found most interesting about this article was how these guys ran their business.

As you see in these few pics, their office is more like a dormitory than a corporate office, they wear jeans and sandals, their hours are abundant but flexible, their meals are catered, their dirty clothes are laundered for free (company benefit), and they appear to have a lot of fun.

So, how do we reach these young innovators who are shaping todays culture? This is a great question and one that we should ask. One thing for sure, they appear to be the kind of people who resist formal institutionalism in favor of casual creative environments. They also appear to be hard-working people who will pour out their lives for a cause they believe in.

The question I have for the church is, “why are young people like this doing all they can to stay away from the church?” After all, we are the ones with the greatest cause, aren’t we? My challenge for church leaders is to consider people like Zuckerberg (and young innovators like him) when they are examining how to strategically reach our culture and commit themselves to contextualizing the gospel in order to bring Christ to this generation that is both highly influential and also the least churched in American history.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Optical Illusion

Click on this link to see an interesting visual illusion. It's fascinating how our physiology is so complex and testifies of the creator God.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Blogging Lapse

Hey All! I just finished my last final for my Perspectives in World Missions course late last night. I am shelled today, but looking forward to catching up on sleep and actually getting some things going again in a few days. Sorry for the lapse in posts. Hope you are all having a great week!