Tag Archive for: Worship

Why We Sing (Christmas Edition)

During Christmas of 1914, soldiers huddled together in trenches to keep from freezing all along the western front of World War I.

On one side the Allied troops (the British, Belgians, and French) with the Germans on the other.

Since the war began the summer before, men and women from both sides had witnessed and participated in the bloodiest conflict the world had ever seen. Many soldiers who had survived the horrific living conditions and brutal fighting were left shellshocked, distraught, longing for home, and wishing the war would come to an end.

But on the night of Christmas Eve something miraculous happened.

Albert Moren , a British private, described hearing songs coming from the enemy trenches:

“First the Germans would sing one of their carols and then we would sing one of ours, until when we started up ‘O Come, All Ye Faithful’ the Germans immediately joined in singing the same hymn to the Latin words Adeste Fideles. And I thought, well, this is really a most extraordinary thing — two nations both singing the same carol in the middle of a war.”

By the morning, the Allied and German troops emerged from their respective trenches and, after having agreed to a ceasefire, spent much of Christmas day together.

It’s said that they exchanged gifts, played soccer, ate food together, and commiserated with one another as if they were no longer sworn enemies.

This event has become known as the Christmas Truce of 1914 and to this day there is no other recorded truce in history like it.

Of course, the truce didn’t last forever. The soldiers eventually climbed back into their trenches and the fighting continued.

But this event left a lasting mark on history.

On that bitter cold night in 1914, it was the songs about the birth of Jesus, sung by supposed “enemies,” that reminded those men of that truth and allowed them to lay their weapons down.

Beyond being a story that offers a glimmer of kindness and peace amidst a world that often feels at war with itself, this event reminds us that, more than which side we’ve fought for, we are united by the unshakeable hope that is only found in the advent of Jesus Christ.

The reality for us today is that as followers of Jesus, we know our hope and our identity will always and forever be found in Christ and what he has done for us.

And so, when we gather and sing, we are reminding one another and proclaiming with one voice that death, war, and sin will never divide us into enemy camps; we are leaving our “trenches” and reclaiming our title as the united body of Christ.

So, church family, let’s lay our weapons down at the feet of Jesus our King and worship him well this Christmas season!


 

Heart of the Song: Silent Night

I grew up thinking everything I heard in Christmas songs was literal. There really were nine reindeer and they pulled Santa’s sleigh in the exact order of the song we all sang together! And I really did need to watch out and not cry because Santa Claus had some level of magical surveillance and was coming to town.

So, in the same way, when it came to the Christmas hymns we sang at church, I latched on to those lyrics, not as artistic interpretation, but as facts about the birth of Jesus.

When I grew up I learned that the reindeer often ride in a different order, Santa uses our parents as informants, and the beauty of the words of many of our carols tell more than the facts of the story of the first Christmas. They speak to the heart of the night Jesus was born.

One of my favorite Christmas songs is “Silent Night,” but the three verses of the song describe a night that should have been anything but silent.

Silent night, holy night

All is calm, all is bright

Round yon Virgin Mother and Child

Holy Infant so tender and mild

Sleep in heavenly peace

Sleep in heavenly peace

 

Silent night, holy night

Shepherds quake at the sight

Glories stream from heaven afar

Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia

Christ, the Savior is born

Christ, the Savior is born

 

Silent night, holy night

Son of God love’s pure light

Radiant beams from thy holy face

With the dawn of redeeming grace

Jesus, Lord at thy birth

Jesus, Lord at thy birth

 

The night Jesus was born must have been a whirlwind of activity. First, Joseph and Mary couldn’t find a hotel room. Then Mary went into labor in a barn and gave birth as a young teenage girl. And none of that is to mention angels appearing out of a dark night sky scaring the shepherds to death!

And all of that was just the beginning. The next day began the 33 years of Jesus’ life; years that can be described as anything but peaceful and silent.

I don’t know if you have ever had the experience of being in the eye of a hurricane. It is a unique moment that is hard to adequately explain. I have had the experience twice. Once in Hurricane Alicia when I was really little, and a second time in Hurricane Ike. I remember being inside the house as the winds pounded for hours shaking the house and the windows. I could hear debris slapping against the roof and the walls. Then in the middle, suddenly there was this calm stillness. And silence. It’s this moment of peace with storms having passed and more on the way.

Many of us have held a newborn child at some and understand the joy and hope that new life brings. If you’re a parent, you probably remember that moment of holding your child for the first time, having come through the journey of labor, and knowing that everything would be different from that point on.

But on Christmas, the baby was not just any baby. He was the incarnation of God himself. The night probably wasn’t perfectly silent, but it was full of promise that everything would be different from that point on, not just for Mary and Joseph, but for the entire world.

It was the promise of salvation to a world desperately needing peace and rest.

Our own lives are rarely silent either. But, no matter the noise, chaos, or storm we are facing, we can experience this joy, hope, peace, and love in the presence of Christ our King.


 

Heart of the Song: O Come All Ye Faithful

The Christmas story opens in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago. Joseph and a very pregnant Mary had traveled a long way to the hometown of their family to participate in a census decreed by Caesar Augustus. The local inns were over-crowded and so Mary and Joseph found themselves settled down for the night among livestock and cattle as Mary delivered the Savior of the world.

Meanwhile, not too far away, a group of shepherds were keeping watch over their flock, undoubtedly unsuspecting of the wonders they would behold a few hours later.

In that day, being a shepherd meant taking constant care of your flock. It wasn’t a lucrative business, and these men were often viewed more as nomads than actual community members. This is probably why the shepherds had not dispersed to be counted in their home-lands like the rest of the country. They simply weren’t considered significant enough to count.

And so it was that this particular group of shepherds were resting with their flock in the fields outside Bethlehem on the night of Jesus’ birth. We read their story in Luke chapter 2.

And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

– Luke 2:9-12

O come, all ye faithful,

joyful and triumphant!

O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem!

Come and behold him,

born the King of angels.

 

O come, let us adore him,

O come, let us adore him,

O come, let us adore him,

Christ the Lord!

 

It’s noteworthy God didn’t choose any of the political or religious leaders of that day or really anyone of “importance” to be the first to hear and spread this news.

The angels could have appeared anywhere and to anyone. Yet God chose this lowly group of unsuspecting men to be the first to hear about the birth of the Messiah — Jesus Christ, God in flesh, born in the middle of the night to young parents and in a stable.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God

and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

– Luke 2:13-14

Sing, choirs of angels,

sing in exultation!

Sing, all ye citizens of heav’n above!

Glory to God, all glory in the highest

 

O come, let us adore him,

O come, let us adore him,

O come, let us adore him,

Christ the Lord!

The shepherds heard the most important news in the history of the world from the mouths of angels of heaven! The long-awaited Messiah had come.

Can you imagine what an utterly overwhelming experience that must have been?

When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger…

– Luke 2:15-16

 

Yea, Lord, we greet thee,

born this happy morning;

Jesus, to thee be all glory giv’n!

Word of the Father,

now in flesh appearing

 

O come, let us adore him,

O come, let us adore him,

O come, let us adore him,

Christ the Lord!

 

Shell-shocked and probably filled with wonder, the shepherds dropped everything to seek out the newborn Jesus. They went to find the Messiah; not to ask anything of him; not even to bring him gifts as the Magi would later do. For what did they possibly have to offer?

They simply went to see if it could possibly be true, and to worship him if it was.

They went to adore him.

And after they’d seen him, they went and told as many people as they could what had happened, who had come, and what the angels said about him.

And this is exactly what we do when we gather together and celebrate this same incredible news over 2,000 years later.

When we think about the words of “O Come All Ye Faithful,” singing together with our families and our neighbors and church-family on Christmas Eve, we are reminded of the great lengths to which God went through in order to reconcile us to him. We celebrate Christ’s birth knowing something the shepherds didn’t — what he accomplished in his death and resurrection.

But, on this side of the Gospel, we can still respond in similar fashion to those few humble men: worship.

Our status, wealth, and pasts don’t disqualify us.

We can simply come and adore him, revelling in the splendor and majesty of God’s grace gifted to us through Christ the Lord.


 

Heart of the Song: Angels We Have Heard on High

As a songwriter, there are few things worse than playing for a room full of people who don’t care you’re there.

Here you are singing your soul out, sharing the intimate thoughts and emotions of your heart, and people are content to just keep looking at their phones or talking loudly over their drinks, as if all you are is the background music to their conversation.

On the other hand, few are the moments as significant as a room full of starry-eyed people listening or singing along to their favorite artist journeying alongside them as he or she expresses themself through the art of song.

Now allow me to remind you of the most elaborate, magnificent, awe-inspiring musical display in history you probably don’t know you know about.

The scene is found in Luke chapter 2. Jesus, the King of kings had just been born to a virgin in a grimy stable outside of an inn in the city of Bethlehem. The God of the universe sent his only son to redeem mankind from the tyranny of sin and death.

Now that he was born, the Father wanted to celebrate and announce his arrival.

So, what did he do?

He sent a mighty messenger angel and a multitude of angelic hosts singing the praises of God.

Luke 2:10-14 recounts it:

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest,
      and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

Now, we need to pause for a second and shake off the familiarity of this passage to really appreciate it. We’ve heard this story read time and time again, and we’re all familiar with the song “Angels We Have Heard on High.”

But there’s more to this story than simply recounting a wild night of singing angels.

You see, there’s a brilliant irony hidden inside this text that gives us an insightful glimpse into the heart of God the Father.

The people of Israel had awaited a Messiah — a savior to come and rescue them from the tyrannical Roman government and be the powerful political figure they needed.

What they didn’t realize was that there was a greater enemy than the Roman empire.

They were slaves to sin itself and didn’t know it.

So, on the night of the singing angels, this redeeming King had finally arrived.

Who would be the first to know? Who would be the audience for this grand announcement?

If you’ve ever had a child, who were the first people you told?

Your parents?

Your best friends?

My guess is it was probably the people who would have been most excited. The people who were waiting with anticipation, and upon being informed would probably cry or laugh or jump at the opportunity to come and celebrate this life-changing moment with you.

So, who would be the first to know that King Jesus was born?

Surely it would be the religious elite!

Or perhaps those in political authority.

Even close family members to Mary and Joseph would have made sense.

To whom would God deliver this incredible news on the night of our Savior’s birth?

Well, God, in his infinite wisdom, didn’t choose to reveal this magnificent news to any of those suspecting audiences. Instead, he chose — wait for it — shepherds.

In ancient times shepherds were filthy, smelly, blue collar, non-prestigious outsiders. They weren’t the ones invited to social gatherings, or guests at the important dinners, they were not to be trusted, informed, or honored.

So why would God send his majestic messengers to sing the birth of the King of kings to these guys?

Throughout Scripture we continually see this type of behavior from God.

He often chooses to reveal his heart to and through the least likely characters.

The typical audience of the King’s “concerts” all throughout the gospels were sinners, harlots, the marginalized, and the unclean.

Why is that?

God often invests himself into outcasts and outsiders because they are the ones who will humbly receive what he has to say and do something with it. Those who feel righteous and self-sufficient have no need of a savior or a savior’s song.

The night Jesus was born, the angels appeared to a group of guys who would appreciate it.

Do you think the politically elite, the religious leaders, or even Jesus’ own family members would have appreciated or believed the message of the angels?

They were looking for a savior of their own size and proportions. They had their own expectations, which didn’t include someone who would save them from their sins.

I wonder, if Jesus was born in our time, who would have been the audience at the concert?

Would it have been you or me?

Or would we — do we — overlook the good news of Jesus all the time as it is?

Every single day, the gift of the Gospel, the beauty of another day, and the grace and mercy of God are a sight and song that should leave us exclaiming “In Excelsis Deo!” or “Glory to God in Highest!”

Yet here we are, distracted, staring at our phones, talking loudly over our drinks and missing the majesty of the moment.

Today, we can be the recipients of the Good News. Peace on earth, good will towards men.

If only we’ll listen.


 

4 Reasons Why You Should Sing at Church

Listen to this article here:

In our culture, singing in public is typically left to the professionals. It’s something most people enjoy listening to, but will only attempt if they are in the car by themselves, in the shower, or singing “Happy Birthday” at a birthday party.

I get it. Singing out loud is a very vulnerable thing to do. Most of us live our lives constantly managing how we are being perceived by others at any given moment. Singing in public could — in mere moments — destroy a lifetime of managing how we want others to see us.

So why do we sing so much at church?

If you’ve grown up in church, it’s just what you’ve always done. But for those new to church, it often feels weird and can be a big barrier to moving forward in your journey exploring the claims of Christ.

The truth of why we sing so much at church is that singing is a uniting action. Here are four different ways singing unites us as followers of Christ.

1. SINGING UNITES THE HEAD AND THE HEART

Singing in church unites our theology (how we think about God) with our doxology (how we praise God). It takes truths we know about God and uses them to stir up our affections for him. When we consider who God is and what he has done for us through the person and work of Jesus Christ, it should move us emotionally and drive us to praise him. Singing is a powerful way to accomplish this. Colossians 3:16 instructs us to “let the word of Christ dwell in [us] richly… singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in [our] hearts.”

2. SINGING UNITES US WITH OTHER BELIEVERS

When we sing in church, we are joining together to confess truths we hold fast as believers in Christ. No matter what our background or social status, we stand united as the body of Christ and with one voice declare the praises of God. And while God is the primary audience for our singing, those around us are encouraged and their faith is strengthened when they hear the people of God sing the praises of God. Ephesians 5:19 exhorts us to “be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.”

3. SINGING UNITES US WITH ALL OF CREATION

Creation worships God. It always has. Whether it’s the early morning song of birds chirping or the majestic glory of a mountain vista, the ocean’s waves roaring or the beauty of a starlit sky,  all of creation is giving praise to its Creator. When we sing, we are united with the rest of creation in giving God the glory that is due his name. Isaiah 55:12, Psalm 98:7-8, and Psalm 148:3 are just a few of the places where we see creation breaking forth into song and giving praise to the Lord Almighty. In Luke 19, Jesus himself says in response to being questioned about people singing loudly about him that, “if these were silent, even the very stones would cry out.”

4. SINGING UNITES US WITH HEAVEN

When we lift up our voices here and now, we are united with a heavenly chorus that is presently singing the praises of God, joining with believers that have gone before us. Myriads upon myriads of people from every tribe, nation, and tongue (Rev. 7:9-11) have, are, and will worship the Lamb who was slain — all proclaiming glory to him who sits on the throne (Rev. 5:13) and declaring his blessing, honor, and might forever and ever!

 

Ultimately, it’s not the songs or our singing that unite us; it is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Singing just gives us a common way to express it all corporately as the body of Christ. When we choose to not engage with the singing portion of our corporate gatherings, we are missing out on a key component of a formative activity in the Christian life.

The next time you step into a church service and the music begins choose to engage. Sing! Be united with your spiritual family! Let the good news and gospel truths you know stir your heart and affections for our Savior. Be an encouragement to those around you. Join with all of creation and those gathered around the throne, and worship the Lord in the splendor of his glory here and now!


 

Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus

It’s 2,000 years ago…

The people of Israel have been through exile, enslavement, wandering, and occupation. For 700 years, their prophets have foretold a Savior – the Messiah – born into this world to liberate their people and rule over his eternal kingdom from an earthly throne. This is the stage set on the night of Jesus’ birth – the Israelites expecting a Savior, but quietly and humbly receiving a gift even greater than they could ever grasp: Immanuel God With Us.

It’s from a later historical perspective that Charles Wesley penned the Christmas hymn, “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus,” but with the same longing embedded in its words. It harkens back to the night of Christ’s birth, but with a hindsight perspective on his role as the Messiah.

Come, thou long-expected Jesus, born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us; let us find our rest in thee.

See, Jesus was born to set his people free, not through conquest as the Israelites were expecting, but through his life, death and resurrection. He was born not only to set the Israelites free, but the Gentiles too. He was born to rule not on merely an earthly throne, but to rule in our hearts and over a heaven-meets-earth kingdom for eternity. He was not born to rescue us from a mortal tyrant, but from sin and death itself, that we would be able to live our lives unfettered by their weight, and then dwell with him for eternity.

Even 2,000 years away from their biblical and historical context, we can still relate to what the Israelites felt as they anticipated the birth of their Savior. We now await his second coming and the fulfillment of his plan for his kingdom, when everything in his creation that sin has tarnished will be made right and whole again; when we can dwell with him and worship him for eternity.

Singing this hymn in 2020, I feel it even more intensely.

Though we as Christians have already been rescued from sin and death through the work of Jesus on the cross, there is a kind of tyranny in living in this world that can be seen and felt even more clearly through the lens of “2020.“ Sickness and death, anger and guile, racial discord – all of these things make it easy to long for a day when all of it will cease. And though there is also immense grace and beauty poured out on us in this life – I see it best when I look into in the eyes of my daughter – there is still a longing in my soul to be with God and to see his kingdom come to full fruition.

Come, thou long-expected Jesus, born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us; let us find our rest in thee.

Israel’s strength and consolation, hope of all the earth thou art,
dear Desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart.

Born thy people to deliver, born a child and yet a king,
born to reign in us forever, now thy gracious kingdom bring.

By thine own eternal Spirit rule in all our hearts alone;
by thine all-sufficient merit, raise us to thy glorious throne.

My utmost prayer for us as we sing the story of Jesus’s birth is that we keep in mind the fullness of what Jesus has done for us through his life, death, and resurrection. I pray that these songs aren’t just a Christmas tradition, but an important reminder of how loved we are by God, of the great hope we have in Christ, and that we can sing them in anticipation of Jesus’ second advent.

Come thou long expected Jesus.

 

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

“Now display thy saving Pow’r,
Ruin’d Nature now restore,
Now in Mystic Union join
Thine to Ours, and Ours to Thine.”

You wouldn’t recognize these words (not many people would) but they are part of a verse from the original version of Hark! The Herald Angels Sing which was written by Charles Wesley, and later contributed to by George Whitefield.

Although this verse is not included in the popular hymn we sing today, it beautifully encapsulates a concept that is not only at the heart of this song, but one that runs deep in the veins of the Christian faith. We may have heard and sung this song a thousand times, but before we hurry off to sing it for the next thousand, humor me for a moment, and let’s take a deeper look.

First of all, what’s a “hark”? Who is Harold the angel? And am I the only one that has had these types of lofty questions whilst slipping further and further into the vortex of the shopping mall on Christmas Eve?

Well, “hark” is a middle English word that essentially means: listen. And “herald” is a messenger that is sent to bring news – typically that of something that is about to happen.

So, the title alone of this song basically means: “Listen to these angels who have been sent to tell us (or rather, sing) what is about to happen.”

Now that we’ve got that cleared up, what is this song about? What news are the angels bringing? Yes, that of baby Jesus’ birth. But perhaps there is a little more than meets the eye here.

The angels are announcing a miracle that is about to take place for which all of creation has been holding its breath – a miracle that took mankind by surprise.

Are you ready?

Here it is:

Heaven is coming to earth.

It might sound simple, but this truth is actually wonderfully miraculous. And while we may have missed it before, this concept is bursting at the seams of this song.

Look at this line in verse one: “Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.”

Or how about this line in verse two: “Pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel.”

In his incredible mercy, God sent Jesus, from a throne of limitless glory, to a little family in a little town on a little planet on an unexpected night. And in that moment, the richest treasure of heaven was given to the most undeserving sinners. Heaven was gifted to earth.

Since the fall in the garden of Eden, heaven and earth have been divided, in desperate need of redemption and restoration. Humanity needed to be united again to God.

Little glimpses had happened throughout the narrative of Scripture, like Abraham and Issac‘s divine intervention, Jacob’s wrestling match with the angel of the Lord, or Moses on the mountain speaking with Yahweh himself. But a moment like this – the God of all creation, to unite us back to himself, entering into his creation, and subjecting himself to the brokenness and frailty of our little world – is of infinitely miraculous grandeur.

Even the name, “Jesus,” represents this glorious truth. We never called God by that name before. It is a name given to a heavenly savior in a human body, and it is a name we will praise forever. Jesus himself is heaven and earth united — fully God and fully man — united in one person.

Remember that part from the original version of this song?

“Now display thy saving Pow’r,
Ruin’d Nature now restore,
Now in Mystic Union join
Thine to Ours, and Ours to Thine.”

This is the miracle. God’s saving power was displayed on Christmas day at the birth of Jesus, it will be displayed when he returns and restores what has been broken by the fall, and it will be displayed for all eternity as we, the church, live in perfect union with him in his Kingdom.

However, it’s not just something that happened two thousand years ago, and it’s not just something that will happen one day in the future. Jesus is committed to bringing heaven to earth every day in the life of the believer.

That is the beauty of a relationship with Christ. Heaven comes to earth through a quiet morning prayer as God gently reminds you that he is with you, a conversation with a close friend as the Holy Spirit moves and speaks through you, the saving work of the Spirit as a person places their faith in Christ for salvation, or even the almost tangible presence of God while every voice is singing a simple song at a church service. These are miraculous moments of heaven meeting earth – restoration and renewal. These are mere glimpses of that great uniting that will take place when God brings heaven down and dwells with us forever.

“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” is a celebration of a moment, but it is also an invitation into many more. An invitation to listen to, and be reminded of, the greatest news – that Jesus has done the impossible and keeps doing it every day.

Our God is here.

Forever we will glorify that name given to a king on Christmas – the name of Jesus.

Look for the miraculous in the mundane today, and see heaven all around you. In doing so, may we bring glory to the newborn King.


 

Joy to the World

My favorite Christmas carol is “Joy to the World.” It is an exhilarating hymn and one that, right from the start, unabashedly celebrates the coming of Jesus and calls followers of Jesus to active worship. And while I appreciate and enjoy the contemplative nature of many Christmas hymns that are slower in nature, “Joy to the World” is a fast song!

If Christmas carols were rides at an amusement park, “Joy to the World” would be a thrill ride.

“Joy to the World” was written by Isaac Watts (1674-1748), who is recognized as the “father of English hymnody” and was published in 1719. And while “Joy to the World” has been sung during the Advent season by believers for over 300 years, it may come as a surprise to know that “Joy to the World” wasn’t intended to be about Christmas or the incarnation of Jesus. Instead, it was written about the return of Christ – his second coming. It was originally meant to be sung year-round to remind and encourage believers about the future coming of our King.

Now, you might think, So, why on earth do we still sing “Joy to the World” during Advent?

The truth is this, the second coming of Christ would not be possible without the first coming of Christ. And while the future coming is sure to look different than the first (see Revelation 19:11), these acts are tied together in the same beautiful arc of redemption set in place by our Creator at the beginning of time. The grace that was demonstrated for us in the first coming of Christ makes possible the day when our King will appear in all his glory to complete the work given to him in restoring all creation back to God.

This is why we should sing “Joy to the World” during Advent.

My favorite lyric from this hymn comes in the second verse when we are called to “repeat the sounding joy.” It’s a wonderful reminder that, despite the circumstances of our current reality and despite the many ways our culture may cause us to forget or lose hope in this life, when we “repeat the sounding joy” we are proclaiming that our King is sovereign over all, now and for all eternity. And just as our faithful brothers and sisters in Christ sang this line hundreds of years ago, here we are in 2020 repeating that same joy.

As we journey into this Advent season together, may we be a people whose hearts are filled with joy as we consider the grace we’ve received at the incarnation of Jesus. And as we look back, may it encourage us as we look forward to the grace that is promised to us when Christ returns.


Our Arts Team just released a new recording of Joy to the World!

Listen to it wherever you listen to music!


 

Remember When: Worship Songs and Wistful Longings

The other day as I was driving, I was flipping through my presets on the radio (yes, some people still let fate decide their music) when the song “When I See You Smile” by Bad English came on.

As I listened, something happened to me!

I was no longer crossing under I-45, I was crossing under the home field football stands, hands interlocked with my 6th grade girlfriend with our heads together leaning in to share one pair of headphones. To a hormonal 6th grade boy it was love. But now, so many years later, the melody being pushed through my car speakers carried my mind through time and space, like some sort of emotional Delorian.

It was an ache – “a wistful desire to return in thought or in fact to a former time in one’s life, to one’s home or homeland, or to one’s family and friends; a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time.”

It was nostalgia.

But here’s the thing: nostalgia can be dangerous. 

It isn’t always bad, of course. It can serve to remind us of things we’ve forgotten, or even awaken a soft spot in our hearts. So you can probably imagine how that can be a really good thing when it comes to worshiping God through song.

Music is an innate language that harmoniously connects – from our 206 bones to the 86 billion neurons in our brains. Music in all forms is powerful.

That’s why in the Bible, we are commanded to have music as a part of our worship to God, and why I’m pretty sure we worship leaders will have job security in heaven. In fact, we are commanded over 100 times in the Bible to sing. So how we think about music and singing as a church obviously matters to God.

“Oh sing to the LORD a new song;

sing to the LORD, all the earth!”

– Psalm 96:1

Music is good. Music is necessary. It takes us back, connects us presently, and gives us hope for the future.

So, how can nostalgia in music be dangerous?

When the church is gathered, music is a tool of relationship with one another and with God. But nostalgia takes our hearts by the hand and says, “hey let’s get out of here and go back.”

The problem is that we can’t go back. Nostalgia cannot transport us to our old pews where we sat as children next to our godly grandmothers. It can’t let her voice ring in your ears as she belts out over the volume of the organ the rare third verse of the “Old Rugged Cross”. Nostalgia can’t really put us back into the sweaty teen-filled auditorium from the summer between our sophomore and junior years at camp when we had tears streaming down our faces and our hands raised, crooning the lyrics to “The Stand.”

There is power in remembering our past and the spiritual milestones that God orchestrated in our lives. A blessing of music is that we can encapsulate pieces of our story in songs, and in doing so, remember and give thanks.

Remembrance is good, but the danger of nostalgia comes in when we begin to live for that feeling like a drug to experience an emotion and close our hearts to the fresh and present movement of the Holy Spirit.

When we allow nostalgia to take the wheel in worship we can become skeptical of change, agents of disunity, dissatisfied grumblers.

When I was in the 8th grade my parents divorced.

My mom moved out and our house, and what was once the epicenter of a thriving family became a tomb to memorialize it. Stacks of books sat gathering dust. Plates remained where they had always been, and so did the same pictures, the same sheets, the same rug, and the same lamp, frozen and preserved like a cold body. But it all began to deteriorate. Dust gathered. Paint faded. Piles grew.

What began as an inadvertent attempt to hold onto the past ultimately stunted the growth of the future. 

Nostalgia can do the same thing in worship at church when we long for the “good old days.” We must fight vehemently against it, not just for ourselves but for those who would come behind us. We must build a flourishing rich vibrant relationship through transcendent worship that is always growing and fulfilling the words of Jesus that he is making all things new.

If music in song is designed to be a part of a flourishing relationship between God and his bride then we must have forward emotions and experiences even as we sing about the gospel—what God has done for us in Christ, his grace for us today, and all he is continuing to do in Christ.

Nostalgia isn’t the enemy. 

After I heard that Bad English song I pulled up Spotify and added a whole 80s ballads playlist, not because I’m a glutton for heartache, but because I can look back with nostalgia and trace the story of God’s grace to see his work in bringing me to where I am today.

Nostalgia is one player in the game, valuable in its role to connect us to our past. We must know, respect, and remember the power it can have on our hearts and then look forward.

What is Worship?

Before my freshman year of high school, my dad and I took a road trip together. We both enjoy baseball so we drove from Houston to Chicago and saw four baseball games in three different stadiums along the way. The trip culminated with us celebrating my dad’s fortieth birthday at Wrigley Field – a historic stadium on both of our sports bucket lists. Before the first pitch, my dad put his arm around my stadium seat, leaned over and said, “I couldn’t imagine a better place to spend my birthday, or a better person to spend it with.”

It wasn’t just what we were doing that was special, it was that we got to do it together that elevated the joy of the occasion and made for a lifelong memory.

Theologians since the Westminster Catechism (and likely before) have argued that “the chief end of man, is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” Our lives are intended to glorify – to worship – God. And not only are we created to worship him, but in doing so, we get to enjoy him; we take pleasure in his presence. Christian worship, and a life marked by it, is intended to be a joyful experience.

So, what is worship? Christian worship is the joy-filled, whole-life response to who God is and what he has done for us in Christ.

Christian Worship

Worship is the expression of reverence and adoration of something. We all worship. The question is to what or to whom will we ascribe ultimate worship? We can worship money, sex, power, sports, and any number of false “gods.” Often our worship is shaped by our affections. We ascribe worth to what we love most. So Christian worship then, is intended to embed us in the story of God’s grace, allowing the story of his redemption and restoration to shape our affections for him. Therefore, Christian worship is the expression of ultimate reverence and adoration of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  

Worship is a Response

Notice worship is a response. God is the initiator of worship, meaning he moves first. He creates. He calls. He saves. He gives grace. We hear his call, are reminded of his grace, and then we respond with worship. This is why some worship services begin with what is known as a “Call to Worship.” We recognize that God, by his Spirit, initiated our worship gathering. He drew us to respond to the gospel initially, and is drawing us to worship him as a church. So, at the beginning of a worship service, someone will typically read a passage of Scripture, or initiate a call and response because it signifies God’s initiation of the worship gathering. Worship is a response.

Worship is Whole Life

If we are to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, our souls, our mind, and our strength (the greatest commandment), then worship must include our whole life. Our affections (heart), our spirit (soul), our intellect (mind), and our body (strength) are all involved in worshipping God. We use our minds to think about and engage the mind of God. We allow God to stir our affections – growing our heart and our love for God. When it comes to our bodies, our posture often reflects not only what we think, but what we feel about who God is, in worship. Thus, in a worship service, we may stand in reverence, kneel in prayer or submission, raise our hands in praise, close our eyes in reflection, or any number of postures that best communicates our worship.

This is why worship is about more than just the songs we sing. Although music can help shape our affections for God and give us words to help express our gratitude and praise for him, worship is more than that. Music is just one element of a worship service. Prayer, the reading of God’s word, giving, confession, teaching, the Lord’s Supper, all of these are habits we practice that shape our hearts to worship God the other 167 hours of the week. What we do corporately is intended to shape how we worship God individually.

Romans 12:1 makes this clear: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” Christian worship is not a one-hour-a-week kind of worship; it’s a whole life response to who God is and what he has done for us in Christ.

Who God Is and What He Has Done

Theologian Edmund Clowney once wrote: “The gospel is a call to worship, to turn from sin and call upon the name of the Lord.” Worship is an act of repenting and believing the gospel. When we embed ourselves in the gospel storylines, and remind each other of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we turn from our sin and repent. Repentance is not only turning away from an old way of living, it is turning towards God and, in doing so, ascribing worth to the only one worthy of it. Christian worship is a response to who God is and what he has done for us in Christ.

Worship is Joy-filled

When our lives are a living response to the gospel and we glorify God, we in turn, enjoy him forever. Worship is intended to be a joyful experience. Certainly, there are times where other emotions are at play. We can worship in times of grief or despair (see the Psalms for example). But remember: joy is not a temporary emotion. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal 2:20) and is an orientation of the heart to be content, confident, and hopeful despite our ever-changing circumstances. In fact, notice how often the Psalms command us to pursue joy in God through worship:

Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, you righteous ones; And shout for joy, all you who are upright in heart. (Psalm 32:11)

Sing for joy in the Lord, O you righteous ones; Praise is becoming to the upright. (Psalm 33:1)

Let the nations be glad and sing for joy; For You will judge the peoples with uprightness and guide the nations on the earth. (Psalm 67:4)

Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth. Serve the Lord with gladness; Come before Him with joyful singing. (Psalm 100:1–2)

God created us to worship and in turn experience joy. When we delight in God, he delights in us (Isaiah 62:3-5). When we draw near to God, he draws near to us (James 4:8). And when the church experiences joy in worship together, it is a shared experience, where our joy is multiplied. This is not only true for believers, but when the church worships with unbelievers in its midst, and when the church passionately confesses the truths of the gospel with one voice, unbelievers must wrestle with the truth claims of God (Acts 2:42-47).

Christian worship is the joy-filled, whole-life response to who God is and what he has done for us in Christ.


 

Tag Archive for: Worship

Mercies (Great Is Your Faithfulness)

Mercies (Great Is Your Faithfulness) is an adaptation of Lamentations chapter three.

It’s a song that recounts the faithfulness of God through every season of life.

It’s a song to the God who has and always will keep his promises to us in Jesus.

All My Hope

 

The song “All My Hope” by David Crowder was sung during our online service of Clear Creek Community Church located in the Bay Area of Houston, TX.

To view the full service, visit https://youtu.be/0yHm83WlL6U

For more ways to participate in our online service in this season, go to clearcreek.org

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Fighting Words

Our Arts Team has gotten creative during this time to offer some encouragement during this COVID-19 crisis.

In the first week we were meeting remotely as a church, our lead pastor Bruce Wesley challenged us all to share encouragement.

The clearest encouragement that we can stand on consists of the promises of God in his word. These promises and truths of God are our #fightingwords, against that which would bring confusion and fear. Now is the time to remind everyone of the truth and power of the Gospel in this season of trouble.

This is a song that has been 95% done for months now, but it seems as if God had the last piece of the jigsaw puzzle in his hand.

Good Grief Week 1 (Full Service)

This is the online service of Clear Creek Community Church located in the Bay Area of Houston, TX.
For more ways to participate in our online service in this season, go to www.clearcreek.org/covid19 To find out more information about or church, go to www.clearcreek.org.
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Why Do We Worship Together?

Fasting and Prayer

Tag Archive for: Worship

157: Restoried in Song – Worship that Transforms

What if worship was more than the songs we sing, but served as a way of re-shaping how we see God and the world?

What if worship regularly reminded us of a greater story God is telling?

In this episode of the Clear Creek Resources Podcast, Aaron Lutz sits down with two of our worship leaders, Brad Loser and Tanner Smith, to talk about worship that transforms us and worship that re-stories us in the gospel.

MORE RESOURCES: All Hail The King out now!

109: Why Should I Show Up to Church?

During the series Salty: Sticking Out for the Right Reasons, we’re discussing questions related to each message on our podcast. On this episode, Ryan Lehtinen, Yancey Arrington, and Aaron Lutz discuss the questions: What is the church? And why is it important for the church to regularly gather together for worship?

Resources:

Be Together – Fight Independence (sermon)

060: Leading Worship in a Pandemic + Album Release

Now that all Clear Creek campuses have returned to in-person services, what has this season taught us about worship and music? On this episode, Ryan Lehtinen talks with Aric Harding and JJ Cole about what they have learned and some of the new projects the Arts Teams has worked on, including a new EP album entitled “True Love.”

Resources:

“True Love” on Apple Music, Spotify

Clear Creek Music

039: How Songwriters Write Songs

Ever wonder how your favorite song came to be? On this episode, Ryan Lehtinen talks with worship leaders Aric Harding and Tanner Smith about collaboration and the creative process that goes into writing a song. They also discuss the story behind Clear Creek Community Church’s latest song “Fighting Words.”

RESOURCES:

Fighting Words Music Video

Clear Creek Community Church Music

037: Go Outside – Worshiping God in Nature

Are you experiencing cabin fever? In this season where many of us have spent more time than usual at home, you’ve probably felt the urge to go outside and enjoy the world around us. On this episode, Ryan Lehtinen talks with Greg Poore about enjoying God’s creation as a way to worship him. So go outside, take a walk as you listen to this episode, and gain a greater appreciation for God’s fingerprints on everyday life.

 

RESOURCES: 

Becoming Worldly Saints by Michael Wittmer

The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by John Mark Comer

001: On Corporate Worship

In our inaugural episode, Yancey Arrington, Aaron Lutz, Courtney Ricketts, and Brad Loser spend some time chatting about our latest sermon series entitled “Together” where we learned about the power and practice of Corporate Worship hitting upon some ideas we weren’t able to address in the series as well as dig a little deeper on those we did.

RESOURCES:
Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren