Sometimes life sucks. We get sick or injured, our families break up, our friendships are destroyed, our finances ruined, or any of thousands of other things. That and we watch, often helplessly, as these things happen to the ones we love. And then there is death. Suddenly someone is gone and nothing is ever the same again. No one is immune. No one is exempt. These kinds of events happen to us all. Things may be great right now, but the night will come and darkness will fall on each of our lives. This is the inheritance we have from our first parents and their disobedience.
The universality of sorrow in the human experience led the Buddha to exclaim that “all life is suffering.” His answer was to seek detachment from the world and its cares. As Christians, we sometimes end up with a similar detachment but from an altogether different reasoning. We proudly proclaim that life is good and that the suffering in the world is the result of sin. But then we downplay our own sorrow and say that because Jesus loves us and died for us everything is ok. We’re fine. After all, Christ has set us free, both now and in eternity. Just think of how great heaven will be! But on the inside our hearts are breaking and we struggle against our circumstances and the consequences of our decisions. We can, and do, ask for prayer but we try not to get too emotional about things.
Maybe what I’ve described isn’t like your church. But most churches in America do little more than acknowledge that suffering happens and try to provide a supportive space for people to work through things in private. Don’t get me wrong; this system has helped lots of people for a long time. The downside is that by only letting people work through their pain in private, the public face of the church is one where everything is always rosy and everyone is always smiling and the sad stuff happens behind the curtain. That’s not how it’s supposed to be.
The Apostle Paul tells us that we are to “rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep” (Rom 12:15). For most of us, the first part is easy. We all like to be happy. On the other hand, sorrow is hard. Weeping isn’t fun. Grief is a heavy burden. But we are not supposed to carry our burdens alone. Christ tells us to cast our cares upon him. He has given us the Holy Spirit as a comforter and a guide. And he has given us the church to be our family – our support system. When one of us hurts, we all hurt. When one celebrates, we all celebrate.
Lessons from the Psalms
It’s hard to read through the Psalms and not be struck by how much sadness is in them. To be honest, it sometimes feels a bit whiney. But that’s one of the things that makes them real. Real people with real issues wrote them, brining their hurts and cares to God. The fact that they remained in the Scriptures shows us that God listens to and receives our prayers – even the whiney ones. These sorrowful psalms are called laments and just like the other psalms they formed an integral part of the worship of Israel and the worship of the church up until recent times. When most churches abandoned the singing of psalms in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s, they unwittingly abandoned a whole language of corporate lament. If we want to recapture this expression then we would do well to look at how lament functions within the psalms.
The psalms of lamentation usually follow a set pattern. They name God in respect to some aspect of his character or some act that he has done. Then they lay out the issues that the author is concerned about and make a petition for God to act. The psalm invariably ends with some declaration of praise to God – sometimes brief, sometimes lengthy. One example of this is Psalm 85. Verse 1-3 address God as forgiving. The psalmist then goes on in verses 4-6 to question God as to why the people continue to suffer. In verses 7 and 8 a petition is made for the Lord to show his love and speak peace to his people. The remainder of the psalm is a description of the Lord’s goodness and the benefits that flow from it.
The ending of praise is important. A cynic might look at it and say, “oh, these people are trying to sweet talk God into doing what they want.” The truth is very different. At least in part, the praise at the end is for us. It is a reminder that God is in control, that he chooses the best even when we can’t see it, and that he is a loving and compassionate Father. It reminds us that there is hope in the midst of our pain. The night will pass and the darkness will not reign forever. It reminds us that the Morning Star has risen in our hearts.
An Anchor in the Storm
Faith, hope, and love. It’s one of the great bumper sticker phrases from the Bible. But it is a bit of an unequal trio. I’ve lost count of the sermons I’ve heard and the books I’ve read on faith and love. Though there is plenty of writing and speaking on hope, it has tended to take a back seat to the other two, at least in my experience. I think that, in part, it is because we talk about faith as an assurance of things not seen. This definition tends to lead us to think of things as already being accomplished. I have been saved. God has a great plan for my life. While these things are true they are a bit simplistic. I have been saved, but I am also being saved and will be saved. God has a great plan for my life, but the details of that plan depend on my actions and willingness to follow his direction. These things are already done but not yet realized. Faith acknowledges the end and sees it as already. Hope acknowledges that while our situation is beyond our ability to manage, God is in control. Hope lives in all of the uncertainties of the not yet.
The tension between faith and hope is easy to gloss over. If we begin to spend “too much” time on our circumstances, we are told to have more faith. But hope recognizes our circumstances and God’s ability to use them for his glory. The writer of Hebrews notes, hope functions as an “anchor of the soul” (Heb 6:19). A boat on a journey has little need of an anchor in calm weather. But when the winds blow and the seas get rough, the same boat can throw its anchor into the water and the anchor will steady the course of the boat in the face of the wind and waves. The boat can continue its journey knowing that while it may be blown about and battered in the open ocean it will not be overcome by the angry sea.
It is in this sense that hope anchors us. It doesn’t fix us to one place, rather it orients us to the One who controls our circumstances and can bring us through. Hope will not make the seas less rough, the darkness less black, the pain less severe, or the road less hard. But it does give us the strength to keep moving forward and to push back against the forces that would leave us in despair. Hope gives us the will to fight through the sorrow, the fear, the hurt, and the unknown because, when combined with faith, we know that our circumstances are not insurmountable and they do not define us.
Weeping in Worship
We need this message in our worship services, but how can we incorporate these ideas into our worship? I think it has to start with the leadership. Pastors and other leaders need to be open about the struggles they face. There is an enormous amount of pressure to appear holy and righteous, and the fear is that if we admit we are struggling then we aren’t holy enough. But that’s exactly the point – none of us are holy enough and we all face trials, sorrow, and pain. When leaders are real with people about our own suffering, it gives others permission to do the same. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating that church become a massive pity party. But I am saying that we need to set aside our masks and be open with each other about the events in our lives.
In the service itself, there are several opportunities and options that allow for people to express their sorrow. A big one is reintroducing the psalms into our worship. It may feel strange to sing laments at first, but it is hard to argue with the words of Scripture. Moreover, by using the psalms to provide the language of lament, we can be certain that we are honoring God as we weep together. If that isn’t something that seems feasible, the answer might be as simple as having an occasional time when people are invited to come forward to share their grief with a counselor and receive prayer within the context of worship. Another option could be to allow for a time of open prayer where individuals can voice their own petitions within the group. Are there people who will abuse such an opportunity? Yes. But as leaders we can set expectations for how that time should be used and model what is appropriate. The important thing is that we give space for people to speak to God from their hearts. That is how we move forward; we lament our brokenness/sorrow/pain to God and then hold fast to the hope that he offers us in Christ.
He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Jesus was no stranger to suffering. Countless times in the gospels we see him moved by concern for the plights of others. At least twice, he openly shed tears: over the death of his friend Lazarus (even though knows he is going to raise him from the dead a few moments later), and over the city of Jerusalem during his triumphal entry. When it came to his own personal suffering, Jesus made no effort to hide his feelings to make others comfortable. In several places we are told he spoke openly about his coming death but the disciples weren’t able to understand what he was talking about. At the last supper, Jesus rejoiced that the moment had finally arrived, but it’s hard to miss the note of sorrow as he spoke to his friends. In the garden, Jesus poured out his heart to God – not alone, but with some of his closest followers near at hand. His ultimate suffering, his torture and crucifixion, was not a private matter but carried out before friend and foe alike. His resurrection is important because it gives meaning to all that he did and suffered. It shows the glory, power, and – above all – grace of God. Jesus’ resurrection did not make all of the things he suffered better. Instead, it redeemed those events and gave hope to us.
We need hope. Faith and love are loudly proclaimed – and rightly so. But what of the hurting people who are questioning where God is in their struggle? Where is their chance to cry out to God like the psalmists (to say nothing of the myriads who have used the psalms in worship) and petition him to move and act? Are we weeping with those who weep? Are we acknowledging the reality of sin’s impact on the world? We have much to celebrate in Christ Jesus, but we also have much to lament about the present state of the world. Let’s not be detached from the suffering around us. Let’s go forth boldly into the world with faith and love, but also hope.
A couple of months ago, I was sitting in a workshop for worship team vocalists and the presenter made some interesting statements. The big one was “the only thing that God can’t do is worship.” A second was that “if one part of us isn’t involved (heart, mind, body) then we aren’t really worshiping.” At the time I thought maybe he just hadn’t thought through some of the teaching in the New Testament. After all, for us to supply the one thing that God can’t do for himself is a tall order and a lot of pressure. Add on top of that that it must be done in the most complete and total way or it isn’t valid and we’ve got some serious issues. I found out later in the day that the speaker was from a church that doesn't believe in the Trinity and that really helped make sense of where he was coming from when he said those things.
Alone and Needy
According to their website, this church believes that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are both manifestations of the Creator God (aka Father). So when Jesus prays to the Father, he is just talking out loud to himself for our benefit. When the Father sent his Spirit upon the believers at Pentecost, he was sending himself. The attraction to such a system is that it is simple. It makes it easy to understand God and his various appearances and descriptions found throughout Scripture. Of course, to hold to this belief we would have to throw out a good chunk of the New Testament. But instead of rehashing the biblical or historical evidence again, lets look at this belief as it is. God (as a concept) is generally agreed to be the supreme being, self-existent, without flaw or need. But, as the presenter in the workshop acknowledged, he believes that God can’t worship and is in need of worshipers. He can’t fulfill that need himself and that’s why he needs us – or something like us. In this understanding, the world was created so that God would not be alone, so that he might have worshipers. Things were great until his creation rebelled and then God had to go to the cross to repair the broken relationship. All in the hope of filling his own need. The only love that impelled God to create the world and seek a relationship with human beings was self-love, i.e. what he gets out of it. Without his creation (which is entirely contingent upon his will and being) this God is eternally alone and eternally needy. More god than God.
But it doesn’t stop there. If we must worship perfectly every time with our whole heart, mind, and body then I’m afraid this lonely god goes wanting much of the time. As sinful beings, albeit redeemed, it is a continual struggle to do anything righteous with our whole heart – and that’s before we take into account our minds and bodies! Even more amazing is that the worship here talked about is that which happens in the gathering of the church – singing, praying, reading, and preaching – and takes no account of other forms of worship. A god who creates a world capable of sin, death, and all of the accompanying wretchedness only to appease his need for someone to sing his praises in the most complete way possible is not a god worth serving. This is not a description of God from the Bible.
The Bible says “God is love” (1 John 4:8) and the context is clear that the love referred to is outward facing. It is not a self-indulgent love that manipulates others for its own ends. God created the world and all that is in it because of an overflowing abundance of love and a desire to share that love with something else. This is why we were created in his image – an image that can recognize and reciprocate the love that God has for us.
But if God’s love is outward facing, what did God do before the creation of the world? Did he need to create in order to have something to love? The Gospel of John tells us that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” (1:1-2). This Word that is both God and with God presents us with a conundrum that the non-Trinitarian believers would simply prefer to ignore. How can something be both God and with God at the same time? The answer is the Trinity. As Trinity, God exists in an eternal community of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each one distinct from the others, yet all sharing the same essence - the same being. This divine community is defined by love. Each Person of the Triune God has an outward facing love towards each of the other Persons. There was never a need for God to create; his creation was a true labor of love.
This means that God doesn’t need us. He wants us. It was his desire to share the love that is within the Triune God with us. That’s why he gave us the ability to sin (note that he didn’t make us sin). A forced love is no love at all. That is why the Father sent the Son and the Son willingly took to himself flesh and paid the penalty for our rebellion on the cross. That’s why the invitation to come to Christ is exactly that, an invitation not a demand. He doesn’t need us. He wants us.
With that little bit of a framework, can God worship? Yes. When Jesus prays to God in the gospels, Jesus (God) is praying to the Father (also God). Yes, it is a bit confusing but there is something comforting about that. A God that is too easily explained is a God that can be controlled – even if it is only to put him in a cage. Moreover, the author of Hebrews calls Jesus our leitourgos or worship leader (Hebrews 8:2). Jesus is the one who leads and enacts our worship before the Father, and it is in Christ that we ourselves worship. And that leads us to the other issue. Worship, true worship, is not dependent upon you or me. We must worship in spirit and truth (John 4:24). We must surrender our very lives as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1). But those things are not worship simply because we are all in – heart, mind, and body. Those actions are worship because they are the results of the Holy Spirit leading us to conform more closely to the likeness of Christ, in whom our worship is made acceptable to God the Father. All of this is the result of love. Love that faces outward, loves the unlovable, and redeems – by its own suffering – the fallen. Not because it has to, but because it wants to.
To close out, God is not lonely. He doesn’t need us to supply something he lacks. Instead, he created us because he wanted to share the immense love that is the hallmark of the relationship between Father, Son, and Spirit with us. A love freely given and received. Best of all, the invitation to experience his love is always open.
This past week, one of my worship team members asked me an interesting question, "does God care about what we wear in worship?" She explained that in the past she had used makeup and clothes to hide who she was out of a feeling of inadequacy but that a few years ago God convicted her about her use of cosmetics so much that she stopped using them for a while. Through that experience, she learned that she was beautiful just the way that God made her and that she didn't need her brushes and bottles to make herself acceptable in his eyes. However, she still struggled with whether or not wearing makeup or fancy clothes while leading worship was somehow necessary, for lack of a better word. After all, we're supposed to bring God our best, right?
The question she is asking effects all of us, not just women. Personal appearance is important. The way we present ourselves - our clothes, speech, and mannerisms - goes a long way in determining how others perceive us. Even so, we know that "man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart" (1 Sam 16:7). What is the right thing to do?
While it is possible to find people in America today who have made radical simplicity a virtue (the Amish come to mind), the vast majority of us live in a culture that hyper-focuses on appearance. Whether we are looking at the professional world or the influence of the media, there are expectations and pressures to ensure that we look a certain way. On the one hand, physicians are often required to wear a white coat; lawyers must wear suit and tie; and worship leaders aren't recognizable without a deep v-neck t-shirt, skinny jeans, and outrageous facial hair - fortunately that's only for the men. On the other hand, celebrities become icons of body image and fashion and entire industries have arisen to critique the best and worst of the Hollywood elite.
These pressures tend to push people to extremes. For some, the temptation is to hide behind the clothes out of a sense of inferiority. They feel like if they look the part others will accept them - fake it 'til you make it. For others, the draw is to use their wardrobe as a way of gaining attention for themselves. Fear and pride, respectively, drive them to extremes. Neither option is a biblical response to the culture. Both are highly invested in their appearance as an indicator of their personal value.
The value of a human life is not determined or even expressed by the clothes we wear. The life of each individual is precious because everyone has been made in the image of God (Gen 1:26-27). Man or woman, adult or child, short or tall, fat or skinny, movie star or septic tank cleaner we all bear the image of our Maker. It is as reflections of the glory of God that we find our worth. It is not a value intrinsic to ourselves, determined by our birth or accomplishments. It is the free gift of God and in his sight we are all highly valuable.
There is, of course, a problem. While we do bear the image of God, it is a disfigured likeness. It is twisted and marred by sin but still recognizable. We all know that something is wrong and we try to cover it up with makeup, fancy clothes, or good deeds. Sometimes we simply try to forget and pretend that nothing is wrong. Either way there is nothing we can do to fix the problem. We need more than an image consultant. We need to be re-imaged.
This is where Jesus comes in. In him, all things are made new. This includes us! He redeems the image in which we were created when we place our faith in him. He restores that image back to its original glory as we are progressively made more like him through the sanctifying work of the Spirit. In Christ, God looks at us and says, "it is very good" (Gen 1:31).
At this point, I'm sure some of you are thinking, "yeah, we know all of that. Whats your point?" Simply this: we need to keep our priorities straight. Peter's exhortation to wives (1 Peter 3:3-4) is instructive for both women and men. His point is that we need to take more care of the inward matters of the heart and how God sees us than we do for our outward appearance. Peter isn't saying that we can't dress nicely. Rather, our emphasis needs to be on the things that matter to God. As worship leaders, if we spend more time and effort on how we will look during the worship service than we do preparing to lead our brothers and sisters into the presence of God then we need to do some soul searching.
New Man, New Clothes
As mentioned above, there is a desire in worship that everything be done with excellence and that we bring our best before God. When it comes to physical appearance, we need to avoid the one extreme of hiding behind our raiment and the other of using it to bring attention to ourselves. Beyond this, there remains a wide variety of options ranging from extremely casual to the very formal. What is appropriate will vary from one context to another based on the culture of the church and the individual. We need to take these into consideration because as Christians we represent Christ to the world not simply in what we say and do, but also in how we look.
At the end of the day, however, our outward image is of secondary importance. The real issue is how well we are conforming to the image of him who called us out of darkness. Paul reminds us to "put on the Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom 13:14). While it may not be fashionable in the world's eyes, we know that it brings a smile to the Father's face when we are clothed in the righteousness of Christ - and of all the critics, he is the only one who truly matters.
So, to sum up, there is nothing wrong with dressing nicely and wearing our best to worship - feel free to wear that old tuxedo that's just hanging in the closet - but there is also nothing wrong with wearing more casual clothing. The thing that matters is the heart. We need to ask ourselves, why am I wearing this? Who am I trying to impress? And most importantly, am I more concerned about being Christlike or being cool? Let's make sure we keep our priorities straight. To paraphrase Romans 14:17 - the kingdom of God is not a matter of clothes and makeup and accessories but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
I was very blessed tonight to be able to baptize two of our kids: Keva and Johnny. Keva accepted Christ about a year and a half ago and Johnny did it back in August but we waited to have them baptized until they could understand a little better about what baptism means. This was the first time I had the opportunity to baptize anyone and I think I was more nervous about it than they were!
Hey everybody! It's been a super busy month between church and my job at the post office but I wanted to take a moment to thank you for stopping by and reading some of the stuff I've written or listen to some of my recordings.
At this time of the year, it is very easy to get caught up in all of the hustle and bustle and forget what the season is all about. Christmas is about God's gracious gifting of his one and only Son, Jesus. He has brought light into our darkness. He has revealed the true nature of the Father to us. He has shown us what love really means. He has redeemed us from our sin. He has taken on our humanity and forever united us with the triune God. He has overcome the gates of hell and the power of death. He has called us his friends and made us coheirs with himself.
I wrote this version of "Silent Night" a few weeks ago on a whim. As a father of four, I feel like sometimes we think of the birth of Christ in far too sterile a way. The birth of Jesus was not ideal but it was real. This song is a bit tongue in cheek and silly. My goal had been to re-record it with better quality but that's not going to happen before Christmas. I don't expect anyone to take the song seriously, but I do hope it makes you laugh. And after the laughter, maybe it will make you think beyond the simple picture of the manger scene to wonder what it really might have been like.
Merry Christmas to you all. God bless!
Psalm 66 has been a fun one. Its all about praising God for his deeds and his faithfulness to his people. The action centers on God's deliverance of the Israelites from bondage in Egypt. The story of the exodus is a template for all of God's work in history and prefigures the work of Christ. We are all enslaved and there is nothing we can do to liberate ourselves. But God has payed the price for our freedom and is leading us through the wilderness to his promised land. So while none of us were there for the original exodus, we can all relate to that imagery for God's work in our own lives.
In this version, I've only gone up through verse 12 and then adapted verse 20 as the bridge. Once again, I've skipped over the metrical versions and simply adapted the text from the ESV to fit the lyrical structure of the song, Chris Tomlin's "Let God Arise."
Psalm 66 (Let God Arise)
Shout for joy to God, all the earth;
Sing the glory of his matchless name;
Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds!
Your enemies bow down to you.
All the earth worships you and sings your praise;
They sing praises to your holy name.”
Come see what God - has done for us.
Our God turned the sea 'to dry land;
They walked dry through the waters.
There did we - rejoice in him,
God who rules by might forever,
Who watches o'er the nations.
Bless our God, O let his praise be heard,
He has not allowed our feet to slip.
For you, O God, have tested us;
With crushing burdens on our backs;
We went through the fire and through the waves;
Yet you have brought us to an abundant place.
God, has not rejected my prayer
Or taken his love from me!
One of my favorite songs that have been written in the past few years is "Build Your Kingdom Here" by Rend Collective. The song is upbeat and has a great message but one of the things that really makes the song special for me is the strange percussion instrument that the band used. Soon after the song came out, I decided to teach it to my congregation and thought it would be fun to get one of the instruments. The guys from Rend Collective call it a jingling johnny, and I looked high and low to find one. When I finally did, it was called a stumpf fiddle and the website wanted nearly $300 for it.
Now 300 bucks will buy a lot of things and I really didn't think that purchasing a weird percussion doohickey was a good use of that much of my money. So I did what any sensible person would do. I built one. A trip to my local big box hardware store and a quick stop at the craft store and I was all set. It took about 2 hours to assemble and in the end I had a reasonable facsimile that was well under a third of the price. My kids called it the jingle stick and the name stuck for us. They loved it so much that I even had to make miniature versions for them.
When we debuted the song we used the jingle stick and it was an instant sensation. People really liked its quirky appearance and sound - though our drummers were less enthusiastic because it's hard on your hands when you play it. The instrument made such an impression that people voice their disappointment when we do "Build Your Kingdom Here" without it.
What initially attracted me to the jingle stick was that it was quirky and different, but, because I built my own, my view now is a little different. I took a bunch of things that shouldn't go together - a post-hole digger handle, stove pans, springs, bells, and other odds and ends - and created a musical instrument. It looks funny, makes strange noises, and baffles a lot of people, even musicians. I love it because it reminds me of the church.
God in his infinite grace and wisdom has brought together people from all walks of life, every tribe, and every language and made us into one body. As a group, we look a little weird, we're noisy, and we often leave people scratching their heads. We are his instrument. In his hands, we make amazing music.
It's that time of year again. The time of year when Christians get nervous about how the church assimilated pagan practices centuries ago as we try to find ways to feel better while still allowing our kids to enjoy a night of costumes, candy, and fun. We've got harvest festivals, fall festivals, even Reformation Day events. My church did a trunk-or-treat event tonight all with no official mention of Halloween. Its enough to make you wonder. . .
There have been rivers of ink used to justify why Christians should or shouldn't celebrate Halloween, and maybe someday I'll cast my opinion upon those waters, but that's not what I want to talk about tonight. Instead, I would like to point out that Halloween is actually All Hallows' Eve. In other words, like Christmas Eve is to Christmas, Halloween is just the prelude to what should be celebrated the next day. Now, if you're like me, you aren't necessarily all that familiar with All Hallows' Day. Growing up in a Baptist church, I was taught all believers are saints because they have been made holy by the blood of Christ but that we don't pray to them or have special days to celebrate them. In liturgical traditions like Roman Catholicism, Orthodox, and Anglicanism major saints have their own days when they are celebrated by the church. But All Hallows' Day (also called All Saints' Day or Hallowmas) is a catch all for all those saints that don't have their own day or have been forgotten by the official church.
At this point, I can see the raised eyebrows and the uncomfortable shifting in chairs. Let me say that I'm not advocating that we start praying to saints, but if we're going to go to such pains to sanitize Halloween we would do well to take a look the day that gives Halloween its significance. Here's why. . .
The stories of the saints are an encouragement to us in our daily lives. Hebrews 12:1-2 tells us, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." The great cloud of witnesses the author is talking about was a long list of saints from the previous chapter (also known as the Hall of Faith). We are now some 2,000 years distant from the writing of that chapter and the list of Christian heroes has continued to expand from that day to this. What God did in their lives stands as a testimony to us of his continued presence and activity in the everyday and the mundane. As a nation, we celebrate our fallen heroes on Memorial Day because it is an encouragement and reminder to us of how to act in the worst of times. In the same way, we should celebrate and honor those who have lived faithful lives to ensure that you and I might hear the Gospel.
The stories of the saints connect us with God's acts in history. American culture today is all about the new. What's the newest gadget, celebrity, show, song, car, fashion - the list goes on and on. Sure there is a fetish for vintage things, but I think the reality is that those select desirable things are rare and so have value and create a certain status in the now. But for most things, newer is seen as better. One side effect of this craving for the new is a disconnect from what came before. In the past century there has been more change than in all the centuries before it combined and we have been left with a kind of cultural amnesia. By revisiting what God has done in the lives of his people in history, we renew our understanding that we exist at the end of a great chain of blessing and that every new generation forms a new link in that chain.
The stories of the saints prove the faithfulness of God. I'm relatively certain that if you've made it this far you're probably envisioning the stories of the great heroes of the faith when I mention the stories of the saints. The short answer is, not so much. Those stories are wonderful and should be told, but I'm really more interested in the millions of believers who have gone before us who followed in the footsteps of Christ while living normal lives - the people that our grandparents knew and looked up to when they were young in the faith. Exodus 34:7 and Deuteronomy 7:9 both state that God shows favor to "a thousand generations" of those who love him and keep his commands. I am blessed to have a detailed family tree on my dad's side that goes back eleven generations before me (into the mid-1600's!!). We have stories beginning with the first Bell to come to America and for nearly each one we know that they were devout Christians and often leaders in their churches. My relationship with God is in part a product of their love for and faithfulness to God. I do not have a testimony of how God saved me out of some dire situation like drug addiction or worse. Instead, pointing to those verses in Exodus and Deuteronomy, my testimony is of the faithfulness of God to my family over centuries.
So let me ask, who did God use to bring you to Christ? Who do you know that changed the world in some small way because of their willingness to follow God? Who has inspired you by their life of faith? Who are you thankful for? On November 1, let me encourage you to remember them, thank God for them, and share their stories with your friends and loved ones.
Happy Hallowmas, everyone!
Note: The word Hallowmas is not my invention. It is an old usage and shares a common origin with the word Christmas. Hallow means holy (Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed by thy name. . .) and was a term for a saint (saint comes from sanctus, the latin word meaning holy) so the mass that was said on All Hallows' Day was known as Hallowmas.
Sometimes, it's really easy to get discouraged. Like Peter, we step out of the boat as we try to follow Jesus but we are overcome by fear as we see the wind and the waves. Our heart's desire is to love God and follow him. To grow closer to him. But our circumstances lead us to question and doubt. Is God really with me? Am I really following his lead or just my own desires? After all, the wind is screaming at me and the waves are so high. . .
This psalm validates our experience and tells us that such feelings are a normal part of the life of faith. Yes, we can experience doubt and fear but we should never surrender to them. The deep places of God call out to the deep places within us to wade out into the wild sea of his love. As we tumble in the surf, tossed about like a pebble in the crashing waves, we find that we are not drowned by our circumstances but are held fast in the love of God. The raging of the wind and the terror of the waves are not meant to do us harm but to help us rely on him and give him glory. He is the Lord of the storm and his strength is made manifest in our weakness.
Psalm 42 (Oceans)
Music from "Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)" by Hillsong United.
As deer pant for streams of water,
so my soul thirsts for you, God.
My tears have been my food so long,
while people say, “Where is your God?”
This I remember as I pour out my soul unto the Lord:
I used to go into the house of God with shouts
of joy and praise among the throng.
Why, my soul, are you so downcast?
Why so disturbed within my breast?
Put your hope in God, your Savior
for I will yet give praise to God.
Deep calls out to deep in the roar of your great waters;
all your waves and all your breakers have crashed and broken o'er me.
By day the Lord commands his steadfast love toward me,
at night his song is with me, a prayer to God on high.
I say to God my Rock, “Why have you
forgotten me? While I'm oppressed
My foes, they taunt me as I suffer,
they say to me, “Where is your God?”
Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within my breast?
Put your hope in God, for I will praise my Savior and my God.
Last week I had to do some work on the Suburban. The rear differential had started to leak and we had a big campout coming up on Labor Day weekend so I wanted to get it squared away before driving a couple hours out into the middle of nowhere. Now, my father taught me how to change the oil and the brakes, how to do a tune up and handle a flat tire, and how to replace a water pump and thermostat. But beyond that I’m pretty much self-taught, albeit with some good resources (my brother is an ASE certified mechanic). All that is to explain that when the differential started to leak, I was completely surprised because I didn’t even know there was anything in it to leak. I’d simply never had to deal with one and had never given it any thought.
After half hour or so of searching the web and watching videos of people doing the repair, I felt like I was adequately armed to tackle the project. A trip to the parts store and $20 later I had everything I needed to fix the leak. I took my time and went slow since I’d never done the job before. I’m sure someone with more knowledge and experience could have done it from start to finish in 30 minutes or less. It took me four times that long, but I wanted to do it right the first time. And it worked. I fixed the leak and we went on our trip and had an amazing time with some good friends.
As I was laying on my back and working my 13mm socket wrench under the truck, I got to thinking about worship and church in general. Sometimes we notice a small signal that all is not quite right. It is so easy to brush those things aside. Sometimes the signals are confusing because we don’t expect them from that person or that ministry. Our response to these signals needs to be flexible and targeted to the issue at hand. Watching and waiting to see how things develop is a good start. Finding out more about the situation informs our understanding of what is going on. Prayer and seeking God’s guidance is key throughout the process.
Maybe the right answer will be to continue to watch and pray and let the issue work itself out. Maybe a simple intervention early on where we come alongside one another to encourage and edify will forestall a greater problem down the road. Maybe we recognize the signs at a late stage and the problem requires a bigger solution. Whatever the answer that the Lord may leads us to, the one thing that we shouldn’t do is ignore the red flags we see around us.
Would the differential on my truck have seized up from the tiny leak that I found? Not likely – at least it would have taken months to get to that point. But by identifying the problem early and taking steps to correct it, I was able to become more familiar with my vehicle’s operation, keep it running smoothly, and for a minimum of time and treasure give myself peace of mind as my family and I headed out into creation. The same is true of our experience in the Christian community. We are all interconnected as parts of the body of Christ. Consistently praying for one another, building stronger relationships, and reaching out to help those in need strengthens our ties as brothers and sisters in Christ and is the regular maintenance the church requires.
In worship we commune with God. That’s number one. But does it matter what elements we include in worship, or even in what order? We’re all familiar with the old adage about changing the medium but not the message, but in truth the medium colors the message and will either enhance or diminish the truth that is presented.
Because worship is primarily about connecting with God on an intimate level, the words we say and the things we do reveal something about who we believe God to be. In my experience, this can be most readily observed in the correlation between formality/informality and transcendence/immanence. Churches that tend to emphasize a transcendent view of God also tend to utilize more ritualized actions and formal language, while those who understand God as primarily immanent will often use informal language and almost no ritual. As with all generalizations there are plenty of exceptions, but on the whole, a more or less formal a service tends to be reflective of a congregation’s view of God as primarily high and exalted or close and intimate. God, for his part, is both most high (El Elyon) and with us (Immanuel), and we must strike a balance that recognizes him as both. It is the same for practically every divine attribute in that we have some that we love to dwell on and others we’d rather not, but we must worship God as he is, not how we would prefer him to be.
It’s pretty easy to see the impact that what we say and do has on the overall feel of our worship. But what about the order? Does it really matter if the songs come first or the sermon? What about confession or the table? Actually, confession makes an interesting case study. For churches that make confession a regular practice, they generally do it in one of two ways. One tradition places confession early in the service because they understand that for worship to truly happen the hearts of the people must be cleansed to be in the presence of God. The other places confession after the sermon as a response the preaching of the word in preparation for the table because they understand that it is the Spirit’s use of the word that reveals our often hidden sin. They are both right in a sense but choose to highlight one view over the other. And what they choose says something about what they believe.
Our acts of worship not only declare what we believe, but also reinforce those same beliefs. Sometimes there is a discrepancy between what we profess and what we practice. In those cases it becomes imperative to change the practice to be more in line with the beliefs of the church. In the context of worship, however, this problem is not always obvious. The trend over the past several decades has been to whittle the service down to a block of music followed by a block of preaching. Any other actions like prayer or reading Scripture have become almost incidental in that they are often short, spontaneous, and performed from the front. The danger here is at least two fold: 1) it reduces worship to a spectacle to be observed and 2) it has the potential of become more about our subjective emotional response to the music and message than about reveling in the truth of the gospel which restores us to relationship with the Father, Son, and Spirit.
At the end of the day, we have to ask ourselves who is this God we worship and what does he require of us as we come before him? Then we must measure our worship practices against those answers. When we prayerfully do this we honor the One we serve and better proclaim his greatness to a world in need.
It has been a wild and crazy summer! I haven't been able to write like I had hoped the past few months but hopefully now that school's back in session for the kids and life is getting back to some sort of regularity I'll be able to do that more. In the meantime, I found this the other day and thought I would share it. Back in 2009, while the worship pastor at Gateway Fellowship, I led the choir in a recording called "We Believe." The instruments were from an accompaniment track but the voices were all ours. Hope you enjoy!
P.S. Deborah is the soloist on "Only in Your Presence". My wife has a set of pipes!!
Psalm 44 is a bit of a manic text. It starts off with a big declaration of God's greatness and goodness and ends with the psalmist screaming at God to wake up. While this kind of emotional roller coaster is helpful to us because it shows that God is big enough to take our doubts and fears when we can't see his plan, it presents some problems for trying to sing the text. Since the idea I've been pursuing is to match the text with a song that people already know, trying to navigate the highs and lows of the psalm with one musical setting is a practical impossibility that is compounded by the sheer length of the text.
Because we are still in our sermon series on the psalms, the framework for a solution was pretty well handed to us. The psalm was broken up to be studied over two weeks, the first focusing on verses 1-8 and the second on 20-26. The first section has a very joyous and triumphant tone to it so I wanted to pair it with something that would reflect those feelings. But when I started looking at the meter of the Seedbed version how it would fit with songs that we sing in our service, I ran into a problem. None of them matched.
At this point, the system that I had been using fairly exclusively for nearly a year got tossed out of the window and I began working on a more custom fit. I chose Chris Tomlin's "Lay Me Down" because it had the high energy feel that I felt the text required and I pulled up multiple translations and began stitching things together. We sang it in worship on May 7th. The recording below is actually from the service and was made and mastered by our bass player, Mike Brodure (Thanks for letting me use it!).
We have heard with our ears
our fathers told us your deeds
That you did in days of old
With your hand, you drove out
the nations, and planted them
the people you set free
the people you set free
You are my King, you are my God;
Send salvation to Jacob!
In you we push down our foes.
I put my trust in you alone
Not my bow or in my sword,
You've saved us from our foes.
Not by their sword did they win,
but your right hand and your arm
for you took joy in them
for you took joy in them
In God we will boast all day and give thanks to your name.
In God we will boast all day and give thanks to your name.
In God we will boast all day and give thanks to your name always.
Last time we examined some ideas about the Holy Spirit and worship – mostly misconceptions that do not help us understand his presence or work in worship. If the work of the Holy Spirit in worship is not solely or even primarily found in charismatic phenomena, how then can we understand his role? Three concepts are helpful in casting light on this area: binding, directing, and empowering.
Binding may seem an odd choice of words. After all, where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom (2 Cor. 3:17). Paul talks about being a slave or bondservant of Christ (Phil 1:1) and while the notion is related, it’s not what I mean by the term. The binding I’m talking about is the deep connection that the Spirit gives us to the inner life of the Godhead and, consequently, to each other. Christ has made a way for us to be reconciled to God, but it is in the Spirit that reconciliation is made a reality.
The Father and the Son have sent the Spirit to the church and the two are so intertwined that we can say that where the Spirit is the church is also, and where the church is, there is the Spirit. He is our constant companion and guide. In him we are drawn to worship God and are lifted up into the presence of the Almighty. The Spirit forms the bond of love between us and God in much the same way that he does between the Father and the Son in Augustine’s vision of the Trinity. The cord of love that binds us to God is the Spirit. As the Spirit binds us to the Trinity, he also binds us to each other. When we submit to the leadership of the Spirit, we also submit to one another in love. This is true for both individuals within a given congregation and between congregations. Just as each believer is bound by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ, so the local expressions of that body are bound together in the Spirit.
I should be careful to note that though the Spirit is God’s gift to the church, he is not possessed by it. The Spirit is, and remains, completely God. We can no more command the Spirit than we can command Christ or the Father. He is continually with us, but in the partnership that exists between the Holy Spirit and the church, the Spirit is the senior member.
The close connection binding God and his people dictates both the form and content of worship. We are not trying to reach up and to grab the attention of a disinterested God. Instead, our worship revels in the presence of a God who loves us so much that he has brought us into an extremely intimate relationship with himself at great cost to himself. Like old friends, we reminisce with God over his mighty acts in history. As grateful recipients, we proclaim the praise of our benefactor. As adopted children of God, we listen to the voice of our Father and celebrate at the table of Jesus, our big brother. All of this is done because the Spirit binds us to God, and God to us.
Unlike binding, directing is much more straightforward - the Spirit directs our worship. The New Testament repeatedly references the state of being “in the Spirit.” Most often the phrase implies a submission to the leading of the Spirit. A few of the actions we see being taken in the Spirit include rejoicing (Luke 10:21), praying (Eph. 6:18), and making ministry decisions (Acts 19:21). The first two easily fit into our typical notions of worship. Less obvious is the Spirit’s leadership in these areas.
We rejoice in the good things that we experience and give glory to God, but why? After all, good outcomes can be attributed to our own doings just as easily as they are to Divine intervention/direction, and that’s even before we take into account chance and luck. Some might say that our propensity to give God glory in such circumstances is the product of our own belief that God works in history and directs events as he sees fit. While that is certainly true, we rejoice in our struggles just as much as in our victories (1 Thes. 1:6, James 1:2-4). I find it difficult to accept that a mere mental assent to God’s overlordship can produce joy in difficult circumstances – perhaps it can create endurance, but not joy. Rather, it is the presence and work of the Spirit that leads us to rejoice in all of life’s twists and turns. We rejoice in the worst that life has to offer because of the Spirit’s indwelling presence in our lives. He connects us in Christ with God the Father and creates in us the desire to rejoice. Regardless of what we encounter, he will never leave or forsake us. The assurance provided by the indwelling Spirit that we will never be abandoned, cast off, or marooned is the sole source of our joy in the midst of overwhelming heartache. Even in good times, when it is so easy to find other causes of joy, the Spirit remains our fountainhead of rejoicing.
Prayer offers us an area where we more readily acknowledge the leadership of the Spirit. We commonly talk about God laying someone or something on our hearts as we are praying. We have all experienced times when we felt led to pray, as if God were calling us to speak to him. These are both examples of the directing work of the Spirit, but there is another sense in which we can pray in the Spirit. There are times when we do not know what to pray, but we are led to pray nonetheless. In these moments the Spirit, “intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Rom. 2:26). I have experienced this kind of prayer most often in moments of intense emotion – an overflow of either sorrow, anger, or joy – where I have been led to pray but did not have any words to say. Again it is the Spirit who leads us to pray but in this case he intercedes on our behalf making the inmost thoughts of our heart known.
Rejoicing and prayer are just two examples of how the Holy Spirit directs us, but the pattern is instructive. The Spirit does not draw attention to himself, but draws our attention to Christ, and through Christ to the Father. In fact, his work is often so subtle that we regularly miss that he is the one leading us to such a response. The same is true for the other things that the Scripture tells us are done “in the Spirit.” The Spirit’s work is not flashy or self-aggrandizing but it is effective and powerful.
All Christians agree that Jesus is the model par excellence for the life that is pleasing to God. But the life that Jesus led and his ministry were not done in his own power alone but by the power of the Holy Spirit. In the same way that the Spirit empowered Christ, he empowers us as well. This is most easily seen in the gifts of the Spirit.
The Spirit endows each believer with particular gifts intended to build up and encourage the church. The individual gifts listed in Scripture are varied and include abilities like prophesy, wisdom, knowledge, healing, speaking in tongues, and interpreting tongues as well as offices like apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. It may seem odd that both abilities and offices are listed as gifts of the Spirit. After all, aren’t prophets those with the gift of prophesy? Well, yes and no. We need to keep in mind that the purpose of the gifts is to build up the church. Just because someone has the gift of wisdom does not mean they are gifted to be a teacher. Likewise, not all who are gifted to be pastors are bestowed with prophesy. Rather, all are empowered by the Spirit to serve the church in their respective roles.
From the earliest days, Christians have had a bad habit of focusing on the gifts themselves instead of the purpose of the gifts. The Apostle Paul felt the need address this shortcoming in 1 Corinthians. His answer was that three things would last: faith, hope, and love – and that love is the greatest of all. His point was that these three things are also gifts of the Spirit, and while not as flashy and impressive as tongues and prophesy, these three are the higher gifts in that they are given to all believers and allow the proper exercise of all the others. Moreover, love is given the place of honor because it alone serves as the ethical basis for employing the other gifts.
The Spirit empowers believers to be the church through the gifts of the Spirit and thereby bring glory to God. This is the essence of the church as worship. Redeemed individuals are brought together by the Spirit and empowered to worship by exercising the gifts they have been given to build up the church by spreading the Gospel and strengthening the faith of other believers. These tasks are not ends unto themselves but are the means through which God brings glory to himself.
As we interact with God, the standard trinitarian pattern of action reverses – we worship the Father through the Son in the Spirit. All of the motions of worship that are addressed to God follow this pattern. When we pray, we pray in the Spirit. When we sing, we sing in the Spirit. When we give or serve, it is in the Spirit. The Spirit binds us to God, directs our action toward the Father in Christ, and empowers us as we worship. The action of the Holy Spirit is so integral to what we do in worship that without his involvement our actions cease to be worship at all, becoming instead a frenzied attempt at grabbing the attention of a God with whom we have no real connection. If Christ is the door by which we enter into the eternal life of the Trinity, it is the Spirit who enlivens us and draws us to that door. He does this not by making himself the object of our focus, but by setting our attention on Christ. The Spirit, as ever, remains the shy member of the Trinity.
It is often said that we need more of the Spirit in our worship. Is that true? And what leads people to make this statement? How can we know whether we have more or less of the Spirit than before?
Of the three persons of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit is the most enigmatic. Throughout the New Testament he is ever present yet always just on the edge of the spotlight. The simple reality is that the Spirit doesn’t draw attention to himself, but, even in his most astonishing movements (Acts 2), always points others back to Christ. The Spirit’s work undergirds the whole of the Church’s existence and ministry and our experience of him is immediate and powerful even today. In him we receive all the benefits that are available through Christ. Moreover, it is in the Spirit and through the Son that we have access to the Father.
The Spirit and the Trinity
The word spirit is derived from the Latin word spiritus, which originally meant breath. Likewise the Hebrew ruah, the Greek pneuma, and the English ghost all have the same meaning in their original senses. The Holy Spirit is the breath of God. But he is more than the exhalation of the Deity. In the Old Testament the breath is both the life and power of a person. Even so, throughout the Bible we see the Spirit working and acting as something more than an impersonal force – he is a personal being. The Spirit loves, teaches, helps, and can be grieved.
Whenever God acts, the three persons of the Trinity act together. The most common pattern of divine action can be summarized as coming from the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit. So, while the Father made all things through Christ, they came into being by the power of the Spirit and are preserved by his continued presence and action. The Son was sent by the Father to be sacrificed on the cross and rise again, but he was made flesh, lived obedient to the Father, ministered, and was resurrected by the power of the Spirit. We are reconciled to the Father through faith in Christ, but it is the indwelling of the Spirit that sanctifies us and guarantees our salvation. It is the Spirit who calls us to Christ by convicting of sin. Just as the Spirit preserves the created order, it is he who empowers believers for ministry, and matures us into the likeness of Christ, growing within us the fruit that bears his name.
The Spirit in Acts
This background allows us to make some helpful observations as we turn to the Spirit’s movements in the book of Acts. For the sake of simplicity, lets break these into two categories: the day of Pentecost and the gifts of the Spirit that marked his presence with the disciples. Many, many books have been written on this topic. What follows here is simply a summary of my thoughts, not a detailed exposition.
The events of the day of Pentecost serve as a marker for the new creation that God has wrought in Christ. On that day, the Jews who were gathered in Jerusalem from across the known world heard Jesus' disciples from Galilee speaking the languages of their homelands. The message that was proclaimed gives us the clue to the importance of the event. Peter’s sermon called all those who heard to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be reconciled with God. The event forms a negative image of the events at the tower of Babel where God confused the languages of the people and scattered them over the face of the earth. Now, in the power of the Spirit, God is drawing all mankind to himself as a holy nation through Christ. This work of the Spirit serves as a foretaste of the day when our faith will be made sight and the divisions that separate us will fade away in Christ.
The gifts of the Spirit seen in the book of Acts provide an amazing picture of what it must have been like in those early days in Jerusalem. Yet, these, too, serve as heralds of the kingdom of heaven that was inaugurated at the resurrection. The gifts are always exhibited to proclaim the gospel or to highlight its acceptance in a new group of people. They are used as ministry tools for reaching those who have not heard the message. At no point in Acts do we see them used in corporate worship, though their performance often occasions worship. The Apostle Paul does mention spiritual gifts in worship in 1 Corinthians. He stresses two points in this regard: that everything should be done in an orderly fashion and that love is the greatest of all the spiritual gifts.
Seeing the extraordinary events and actions recorded in Acts as hallmarks of the Spirit’s action stems from a failure to understand the Spirit’s role in the divine economy. The Spirit is pointing back toward Christ just as Christ is point us back to the Father. This is what the Spirit does. He glorifies the Son, not himself. It is for this reason that he is called the shy member of the Trinity. The amazing events we see in Acts do not serve as paradigms for either worship or the Christian experience. The presence and work of the Spirit does not always manifest in extraordinary and miraculous ways, but his work is always present in the lives of believers. If we want to see the impact of the Spirit on worship, we will have to look deeper.
A few weeks ago, we welcomed the newest addition to our family, Livi Ann Bell. She is awesome.
As baby number four in our house, there is definitely a different feel to this one. With the first, there was an almost overwhelming fear of making mistakes. I remember driving home with Keva, our oldest, and being terrified of hitting a bump in the road, let alone having an accident. Our second, John, struggled with a kidney issue that had us in the specialist's office more often than we were at the pediatrician. Even with James, our third, there was no break from the stress. He had severe food allergies - so much so that the doctor told us to carry an epipen, just in case. In all three instances, we were drawn closer to God and depended on his care because in many ways we felt helpless. He has blessed us so much. Both of the boys are fine now. John has only one kidney but no other side effects and James has completely overcome his allergies. To see them now, you would never know what they dealt with.
Livi is a healthy baby who spends her days eating, sleeping, and filling her diaper. Her sister and brothers love holding her and helping take care of her. As for her mother and I, well, we are enjoying having an "easy" baby and rejoicing in the new life that God has given our family.
Every Sunday is a little Easter in that we continually celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Easter Sunday, however, is special. On Easter, we remember that what we believe is grounded in verifiable, historical events. Christ's resurrection really happened and it is the one moment that defines all others. Because of the empty tomb, Christmas is a celebration of light and hope coming into the world and every Sunday is foretaste of the new creation. More importantly, we have been restored to relationship with the Father because Jesus is alive.
Order of service
Christ Is Risen - Matt Maher (led by Louie Padilla)
Glorious Day - Passion
Psalm 16 (Crown Him Majesty)
O Praise the Name (Anastasis) - Hillsong
The Victory - All Sons and Daughters (led by Kristin and Jeremy Oglesby)
We had a great time of worship today! Our service focused on the hopefulness of Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem and how that hope seemed to evaporate as Jesus hung on the cross.
Order of Service
"Here Is Our King" - David Crowder
"Glorious Day" - Passion
"Only King Forever" - Elevation Worship
Psalm 22 (How Deep the Father's Love for Us)
Come and join us at FBC Tempe on Easter Sunday to celebrate our risen King!
One of the things about Psalm 15 that stands out to me is the way that it points us to Christ as a role model for the Christian life. David asks who is worthy to stand before the Lord and then lists the criteria for admission to the holy presence. Verses 2 through 5 paint the picture of the superhuman. The requirements sound simple enough until we realize that none of us can live up to them all the time. Christ alone has done this. For me, verse 4 is perhaps the most gut wrenching when it says "who swears to his own hurt and does not change." Christ surrendered his heavenly glory, became flesh, lived in a broken world, and died on a cross because he had agreed to submit to the Father's will. By his sacrifice we are made right with God and have the opportunity to dwell in the holy place.
This psalm is set to Matt Redmond's "10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord)" in the key of F. The lyrics were adapted from Timothy Tennent's metrical version at the Seedbed website.
Lord, who may dwell in Your holy place?
Who may live on Your holy hill?
He who walks blameless, and does what’s right,
And speaks the truth from his heart ever still.
Lord, Who may dwell in your holy place and on Your holy hill?
He who walks in this path and does these things, Shall never be moved.
Who never slanders with an evil tongue,
Nor wrongs his neighbor in any deed;
And casts no slur on either friend or foe,
Nor of the wicked takes any heed.
The righteous honors those who fear the Lord,
He keeps his oath, despite hurt or pain;
No wicked bribe he takes for his reward,
And lends his money without wrongful gain.
This post is based on a communion guide for lay leaders that I wrote in 2015.
And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. -Acts 2:42
I grew up in Baptist churches, so the Lord’s Supper was something we did every now and then. The idea was that by celebrating communion infrequently we made the act more special. Maybe it worked that way for some folks, but for me, it made the Supper an awkward intrusion into our normal worship. But hey, Jesus said we have to do it.
It was only when I went to seminary that I began to learn there was more to communion than what I had seen. I began learning about the early church as well as reading patristic theologians and I was stunned how much time they devoted to talking about communion. Then I learned that the Lord’s Supper was not something the early church did only a few times a year, but in nearly every service! It was a cornerstone of their worship. Their experience of worship was so vastly different from my own.
The Symbol of the Gospel
Precious gems are cut to have many facets. Each facet sparkles and shines but it does not contain the whole beauty of the stone. Rather, the stone’s true beauty is revealed as we examine each facet and how the light plays between them. The same is true of the Lord’s Supper. The many themes contained in the act of communion come together to reveal the greatness of the gospel – as a symbol of Christ’s death, we are essentially talking about the gospel when we talk about communion. The whole of what Christ has done for us can be seen in this one act. There are at least six theological themes that are bound up in the symbolism of the Supper: the memorial, thanksgiving, covenant, community, mission, and eschatology.
This is the old Baptist standard. It is also the most apparent on the face of things. We remember that Christ died for our sins. The bread is his body, broken for us. The cup represents his blood, shed for the forgiveness of sins. The death and resurrection of Jesus are the foundation of the Christian faith. In the same manner, the remembrance of the price that was paid for our redemption forms the basis for all of the other aspects of communion. Matt 26:26-29, Mark 14:22-25, Luke 22:13-20, and 1 Cor 11:23-26.
From the Greek term eucharistia (from whence the term eucharist is derived). We remember that we have been set free because of Christ’s death and resurrection. This theme is an immediate response to the revelation of Jesus’ sacrifice. We are thankful for the price that was paid. We rejoice in our restored relationship with the Father, through the Son. Where the memorial is reflective and sorrowful, thanksgiving is joyous and celebratory – we are redeemed! 1 Cor 5:7-8, 1 Cor 10:16-17, Col 3:15.
Christ has created for us a new covenant, a new relationship with God. We remember to whom we belong. Jesus tells us that the cup is “the cup of the new covenant.” The Law and its purpose are fulfilled in Christ. We no longer need the sacrificial system and its accouterments because Jesus has made the perfect sacrifice once and for all. In him we are restored to relationship with the Father. We are also clothed by the Spirit in the righteousness of Christ. We are new creations, co-heirs with Jesus and children of the Most High. As we come to the table we have the opportunity to commune with God in a tangible and intimate way. Matt 26:28, Mark 14:24, Luke 22:20, 1 Cor 11:25.
Christ has made us members of his body. We remember who we are. The Didache, an early Christian text from around AD 100, states in an example communion prayer, “Even as this broken bread was scattered over the hills, and was gathered together and became one, so let Your Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into Your kingdom.” While not Scripture, it is illustrative of the truth of Scripture and its expression in the symbols of the Supper. Bread isn’t made from a single grain of wheat but from many grains, made into flour and combined with leaven and water. The same is true of us. God has taken disparate people from every tribe and tongue and given us the Spirit to make us into one body, the Church. None of us are saved alone, but together with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Acts 2:42, 1 Cor 10:16-17, 1 Cor 12:27, Eph 3:6.
We are the hands and feet of Christ. We remember that he had given us a job to do. Augustine of Hippo spoke to new believers about the Supper saying, “Be what you see, receive what you are.” He was talking about how the body of Christ is made up of individuals, but his words point to an additional reality. Christ sacrificed his body and blood that mankind might be saved. As members of his body, we also have a role to play – giving our lives as holy sacrifices. We are to be broken and poured out for a lost and dying world, just as Jesus was. Rom 12:1-8.
We celebrate his death until he comes again. We remember that he will return. The Lord’s Supper is a foretaste of the wedding supper of the Lamb. One day, we will feast with Jesus in a new heaven and earth, but until that time he has given us permission to come to his table and dine with him. Just because he is unseen, his presence is no less real for it is he who presides over the celebration. But one day we will see him face to face! Matt 26:29, Luke 22:16, 1 Cor 11:26.
As a closing thought, the word remember is closely tied to the Supper. Jesus commands that we “do this in remembrance of me.” In contemporary culture, remember often carries the meaning of something we don’t forget. I would suggest, however, that the remembrance we are called to do is not a passive thing. Rather, we are to actively enter into the work of Christ as we recall his passion.
So, why did the early church celebrate communion so often? I think it was because the Supper functions as a recapitulation of everything that God has done for us in Christ. In this one act we can experience, in symbolic form, the fullness of the Gospel, from the Old Testament precursors to the eschatological realization of the promises of Jesus. But these things are not necessarily readily apparent. They must be highlighted and explained as we gather around the table. When we look at the Lord’s Supper in this light, it is by more frequent celebration that the act’s deeper significance is brought out and communion is made more special. The power of the Lord’s Supper does not come from the symbols of bread and wine but from the presence of Christ made manifest by the Holy Spirit. As we come to his table, he meets us there to nourish our souls as we feed on the truth of the Gospel.
 The Didache, Chapter 9, http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0714.htm.
 Augustine, On the Nature of the Sacrament of the Eucharist, sermon 272, http://www.earlychurchtexts.com/public/augustine_sermon_272_eucharist.htm.
Christian music has its beginnings in the music of Israel, most especially the psalms. From the early church through the Reformation, the psalter formed the cornerstone of musical worship. Sure there were other kinds of musical texts sung as well, but the psalms were ever present. All of the reformers sought to bring the psalms back to the people and they looked for ways to involve the congregation in singing. The psalter has a big part of the soundtrack of historical Christianity.
Beginning in the 1700’s, the psalter began to give way to the hymnal, as writers like Isaac Watts began to compose psalm paraphrases and hymns that were not based on the psalms. Today, most evangelical churches do not use the psalms as part of their worship. Instead, the psalms are seen as a resource for contemporary songwriters to use in the creation of new songs. Only a handful groups, mainly Reformed churches and those with denominationally established liturgies, continue to use the psalms as part of their regular worship.
In May of 2016, my church began a sermon series on the book of Psalms. Our sermon series tend to be long, multi-year events so I knew going into it that with a 150 chapter book, we were essentially climbing Everest. After the first week, however, I couldn’t shake the feeling that we were missing out. It was nice to be examining the psalms in a closer way, but it felt strange to be studying what are in effect song lyrics without listening to the music. So I began looking for ways to promote corporate psalm singing.
Did someone just say, "Wait, why would you do sing the psalms as a congregation?" I'm glad you asked. Aside from the fact that we are exhorted to sing the psalms (Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16), the psalms have several benefits. First, they are Scripture, and are useful for teaching and whole host of other stuff. Singing a text is one way to help remember it. Moreover, the psalms present, in abridged form, the whole Old Testament story - that's why the Gideons include it with their little pocket New Testaments. But that's not all! A number of the psalms are messianic and point to first and even second coming of Christ. But my favorite reason to sing the psalms, by far, is that the psalms say things that we feel as human beings but would be hesitant to express in prayer, let alone in song. God gave us the book of Psalms with all of its varied expressions to be used (sung), not simply cherished.
There are a ridiculous number of ways to sing the psalms, but the three biggest ways are plainsong, Anglican chant, and metrical psalms (Russ Stutler has a great article outlining these three and many more). Of the three, the one I enjoy the most is plainsong. The melodies are beautifully haunting and rich with historical connections. Plus, any version of the psalms can be used. If you like the majesty of the KJV, no problem. The literal approach of the NASB, it works. The gritty imagery of the Message, not an issue. There was just one problem. I lead a contemporary service at a Baptist church. Breaking out the “monk songs” is a non-starter. Likewise with Anglican chant. The one avenue that offered possibilities was metrical psalms.
Metrical psalms are translations of the psalms set to poetic meter. These were huge during the Reformation and were the preferred method of singing the psalms for most Protestants. Here’s how it works. By counting the number of syllables in a line of the text, we can match it to a tune that has the same number of notes in a line, i.e. has the same meter. If you look in hymnal, you’ll find somewhere on the page a string of numbers or letters that signify the meter of the tune/text. They look like 188.8.131.52 or CM (Common Meter – 184.108.40.206). So, for example, “Amazing Grace” is in Common Meter (220.127.116.11). Since the theme from the TV show Gilligan’s Island has the same meter we can sing the words of “Amazing Grace” to it. If you’ve never done it before, you should try. I’ll wait.
Because of their stricter adherence to poetic rules, hymns are great candidates for this kind of musical mixing and matching and a number of old hymn tunes actually began as psalm tunes. But as a contemporary service, we don’t do a great number of hymns. We do have a dozen or so that we sing – though in a modernized form. Songs like Chris Tomlin’s “Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)” and Hillsong’s “Cornerstone” fit into this category, but they are a minority in our musical vocabulary. What most of the people in my congregation know are the songs that come on the Christian radio station. For the idea to work, I had to do some counting. I started with just a handful of songs and began working out the meter for the verses, choruses, and bridges.
Metrical psalms pose an additional problem beyond their association with tradition hymns. Most of them are well over a hundred years old and are filled with antiquated language. Not all of them, but most. Thanks to an internet search, I was able to find the Seedbed Psalter, a good modern language version of metrical psalms, as well as online versions of some other modern versions and the older texts.
Thus armed, I started a trial period, crafting one congregational psalm a week for five weeks. I made sure to pick tunes that the congregation would easily recognize. The psalms we sang were the same as the sermon text for the day. After the five week period we took a break for several weeks and asked the people to give feedback on what they thought of singing the psalms. The response was overwhelmingly positive. We have been singing the psalms for about ten months now. I’m still amazed to watch people singing a psalm that they’ve never sung before as if it was a song they’ve known for years.
In recent years, more and more resources have become available to help churches sing the psalms. Some, like the Seedbed website, seek to use traditional hymnody as an avenue to encourage the practice. Others have written completely new songs to match the sacred texts (Shane and Shane are a good example). For my congregation, neither one of these avenues works as a viable worship practice, but by taking the best of both approaches, we have found a solution that works.
In the weeks and months ahead, I will be posting the metrical index of contemporary worship songs and recordings of some of the psalms we have sung in our service.
This is the third in a series of articles that looks at the impact the Trinity has on Christian worship. The material has been adapted from my doctoral thesis.
In the previous article of this series, we examined how the church brings glory to God simply by its existence, aka the church as worship. Turning from the church as worship to the church at worship, we must keep in mind that in both respects, worship is participation in the divine life of the Trinity. The former is concerned with temporal relationships taken up and renewed by the triune God, while the latter is concerned in particular with the divine/human relationship. Among Evangelicals, there exists a tendency to view the divine/human relationship in a direct way. Because the veil has been torn, we often think that humanity can simply come before God as his children. This statement is partly true, but it leaves out a crucial detail: there is only one true Child of God. Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of the Father, is the only human being who has a perfect relationship with the Father, and it is in and through Christ that the rest of humanity are accounted children of God. Moreover, all human experiences of God, with the exception of Jesus’ own experiences, are mediated, and the mediator is Christ.
Regarding the liturgical action of worship, the mediation of Christ rests at the heart of what we do. The Son is in a state of continual worship of the Father and as we enter into worship, the Son’s worship becomes our own, and our worship becomes his as he clothes us in his righteousness and presents us to the Father. Our own works of worship are not worthy of God, but, by the Spirit, our offerings are made acceptable through Christ in the sight of the Father. This pattern is a reversal of the normal action of the economic Trinity. Instead, we are drawn up by the Spirit through the Son into relationship with the Father.
The paradigm of mediated experience necessarily affects the manner in which the worship service should be understood and enacted. For one, worship is an interactive encounter with the God who is three in one. The idea that worship is what we do for God is false. Worship is what we do together with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as we seek to bring glory to God. So, how should we approach worship if it is not wholly our own act? The answer is found in the reality of the triune God.
God is not a static monad, but a Trinity – a community of three persons each relating to the others in unique ways. As mentioned above, the pattern of worship within the Godhead found in Scripture is that of the Spirit glorifying the Son, the Son glorifying the Father, and the Father sharing his glory with the Son and the Spirit. Likewise in us, the Spirit calls us to worship and leads us to worship the Son. The Son, as High Priest, in turn, brings us before the Father that he might receive the ultimate glory. While revelation from God represents a downward movement from the Father through the Son in the Spirit, our response is an upward movement in the Spirit through the Son toward the Father. God calls us to himself, and we answer his call, yet both movements take place with the individual actions of the divine Persons.
This trinitarian understanding of revelation and response forms the basis for all that occurs in a worship service. Everything that happens in a service falls into one of these two categories. The call to worship, the reading of scripture, the preaching of the word, the retelling of the story at communion, and even the benediction are all types of revelation. They are intended to be words from God to his people. On the other hand, our prayers, the passing of the peace (aka the welcome, for us less liturgical types), the collection of the offering, coming to the table, and most of our songs are examples of response.
Let’s look at some specific instances. When we consider the reading of Scripture, here as in other divine actions, we see that the Father speaks through the Son in the power of the Spirit. In the reading of the Scriptures it is not the voice of the reader that is heard, but the voice of Christ. The words of Scripture are not merely of human composition but are the very words of God and when we read them aloud it is Christ who speaks through us. Likewise, in preaching the preacher is meant to be a conduit through which Christ might speak in the power of the Spirit. If we accept that the sermon is a joke and three points of application then we have missed the bigger picture. The most relevant preaching is that which sets our attention on the triune God in whose image and for whose pleasure we were created. Bookstores are stuffed with self-help books. What we need in the sermon is to hear the voice of Christ.
When it comes to our response to God’s self-unveiling prayer is the ultimate paradigm. Prayer at its most simple is communication with God. As such, prayer defines all of our actions in worship. But prayer is not simply something we can do on our own. The access available in prayer is the gift of God. In prayer we engage directly with the whole Trinity. We pray to the Father in Jesus’ name but that prayer is offered up in the power of the Spirit. Praying in Jesus’ name means that our access to the Father in prayer is mediated by Christ. But prayer is also offered in the Spirit, who leads us to Christ. Too often prayer in the Spirit is associated with glossolalia and intense emotional experiences, but the truth is that all prayer is offered in the Spirit, even the most humble mealtime blessing. It is the Spirit who empowers our prayer to God and directs us to Christ the Son. It is Christ the High Priest who brings our prayers before the Father as his own. This same pattern is at the heart of all of our Godward actions in worship.
The question will undoubtedly be asked as to the rightness of praying to Jesus or the Spirit. Though the question attempts to take seriously the norms of the economic Trinity it does seem to miss the wider point. The Son and the Spirit are not lesser beings than the Father. Each of them is in fact fully God and worthy of receiving worship, including prayer. The problem is not worshiping or praying to the Son or Spirit, but instead when we fixate on one Person to the detriment of the other two. The whole doctrine of the Trinity matters, not simply the economic Trinity.
The beating heart of worship is not music. Or preaching. Or even Jesus. No, the heart of worship is the one God who exists eternally as three Persons bound together in a relationship defined by perfect love. Because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we have a place in that divine relationship. We experience it as we are conformed by the Spirit to the likeness of Christ and the image of God is restored in us. We also experience it as we enter, in Christ by the power of the Spirit, into the ongoing worship within the Godhead. In these things we bring glory to God, and that is what worship is all about.
Cocksworth, Christopher. Holy, Holy, Holy: Worshiping the Triune God (London: Darton, Longman, and Todd Ltd, 1997).
Letham, Robert. The Holy Trinity: In Scripture, History, Theology, and Worship (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2004).
Parry, Robin A. Worshiping Trinity: Coming Back to the Heart of Worship (Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books, 2012).
Thompson, John. Modern Trinitarian Perspectives (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994).
Torrance, James B. Worship, Community, and the Triune God of Grace (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1996).
Volf, Miroslav. After Our Likeness: The Church as the Image of the Trinity (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998).
Ware, Bruce A. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: Relationships, Roles, and Relevance (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2005).
This is the second in a series of articles that looks at the impact the Trinity has on Christian worship. The material has been adapted from my doctoral thesis.
The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously stated that he dreamed that his children would “one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color or their skin but by the content of their character.” Character is an interesting thing. One has it before any action is taken, but another cannot see it until it is displayed by action. Character is something intrinsic to the person. An individual’s character defines him. He is his character. It is the same with worship. It is easy to think of worship as something the church does; after all, worship is a verb. But there is another sense in which the church brings glory to God by its existence. The church is worship.
How can this be? Simply put, it is why humanity was created. Genesis 1:27 states that “God created man in his own image. . . male and female he created them.” God did not create an individual but a pair, a community of people. Even in the following chapter in Genesis where Adam is created first, the story highlights the fact that the individual was meant to live in community with his own kind (Gen 2:18). While creation in the image of God does confer all individuals with worth and natural rights, the image of God applies equally to the creation of the community and its most basic unit, the family. From the beginning, this original community included God, but the presence of sin has broken this fellowship. It is only through the work of Christ that true community, a community that embodies the image of God in relationship with God, can be reestablished. This restored community is the church.
The hallmark of the Christian community should be the same as that of the Divine community: love. God has many attributes, but love is only one that applies to God in himself. All of the other qualities we think of – goodness, holiness, mercy, etc. – are in relation to created beings but love his how the persons of the Trinity relate to each other. Likewise, love is meant to saturate the church. At the first, this love relationship is expressed between the church and the triune God because, as the adoptive children of God, Christians share in Christ’s filial relationship with the Father thus participating in the life of the Trinity. The reality of the life of the Trinity as the model for the Christian life means that the relationships expressed within the Trinity are as important as God’s character and his commands. We are to love others – both inside and outside the church. The trinitarian relationships of the church can be expressed in the same language as the relationships with the Godhead. Inside the church, we find three primary categories: unity and diversity, authority and submission, and mutual indwelling. Relationships outside the church can be expressed in terms of mission.
Unity and Diversity
Within the Trinity, there exists a unity of being/essence and a diversity of persons, as well as a unity of purpose within the whole and a diversity of action in the particular. In the same way, the church is one body made up of many local assemblies, or on the smaller scale, it is a local gathering comprised of many individuals and ministries. Christians do not share a single essence as the Trinity does, but rather a kinship, all being made sons of God and coheirs with Christ. All of the redeemed, being clothed in Christ, stand equal before God (Gal 3:28). Even so all Christians are not the same and reflect a wonderful diversity. As with the Trinity, so with humanity, there exists no conflict between the equality of all and diversity.
The key here is diversity as opposed to division. In the Spirit, believers are united in Christ but there exists a diversity of backgrounds, experiences, purposes, and gifts (1Cor 12:12-14). We are to honor and respect the differences among believers so long as those aspects are not contrary to God’s character or law. As sinful creatures, it is easy to distort the variety that God has ordained for good. On one hand, there is a tendency toward uniformity, which by necessity erases all distinctions, and on the other, is the desire to turn distinctions between individuals and groups into barriers of fellowship. The Apostle Paul addressed this very issue in 1 Corinthians 12:27-31 which leads directly into the famous love passage. The point is that the diversity of the body of Christ is a good thing when expressed in love, for it is love that leads to unity and from unity love leads to expressions of diversity. With the Trinity, contemplating the three leads back to the one which in turn leads back to the three – and so with the unity and diversity of the church.
Authority and Submission
Just as the unity and diversity of the triune God is a model for humanity, the same is true regarding issues of authority and submission. Within the Trinity, the Father is the source of authority. It is he who sends the Son and the Spirit. For some people, relating to God as Father is difficult because of their experiences with their own fathers. Unfortunately, this is the wrong way to look at the situation. The Father is the source of all fatherhood. In the same way that the image of God was scarred by sin, all human experiences of fatherhood have been likewise damaged. We must see beyond human experience to glimpse at the truth. The Father is the perfect father, and the Son is the perfect son. Their relationship is the paradigm for all relationships where authority and submission come into play.
The Father sends the Son, and the Son readily obeys. The Son also asks things of the Father, which the Father does, but it should be noted that the things the Son asks for are in concert with the Father’s will in sending the Son. The unseen animus here is love. It is out of love for the Son and a desire to glorify him that the Father sends the Son who obeys out of love for and a desire to glorify the Father because love exercises rightful authority and love also submits to rightful authority. Because these types of relationships exist within the Godhead, they also exist among his creatures. When we live in harmony with each other in rightly ordered relationships we brings glory to God.
At first glance, the idea of perichoresis among human beings seems absurd. The closest thing to it I can imagine is dissociative identity disorder in which a person exhibits multiple personalities. Without question, this is not what God intended for humanity and cannot be an expression of the image of God. The issue changes, in my opinion, as we reflect on the Divine image among groups, specifically the family and the church. Within these groups it is not uncommon for one person to act on behalf of the whole, bearing the consent and goodwill of the larger body, and using resources gathered by the community. In such cases, the actions of the one are recognized as actions of the whole. As Christians, we experience unity in Christ through the work of the Spirit who dwells within each believer. So it is not that we indwell each other, but the Spirit who abides in all believers who makes us into the image of God.
This union in Christ by the indwelling of the Spirit creates a new community where we are connected and dependent on each other to supply our needs. This interconnection and interdependence allows for the many to participate in the actions of one, or to put it another way, for the one to act in place of the many and the many to act for the one. Where one weeps, all weep. Where one rejoices, all rejoice together. This indwelling happens in various ways: through prayer, giving, and service. True, the type of indwelling that exists with the Father, Son, and Spirit does not exist within the created order, but what does exist within the church is a reflection of that perichoretic relationship.
Lastly, we see the church as worship by virtue of its efforts to fulfill its mission. Participating in the mission of the Trinity is not a mere imitation of the trinitarian paradigm – it is a participation in the life of the Godhead itself. At no point is the mission simply that of the believer. Rather the believer, through union with the Son by the Spirit, participates in the Son’s mission from the Father. There is a tendency, to think of the mission of the church as simply the evangelization of the nations. Though evangelism is certainly a part of the church’s mission, the reality is much broader. We are meant to be an eschatological community that provides a foretaste of the full restoration of creation and images the triune God to the wider world.
In its unity and diversity, authority and submission, mutual indwelling, and mission the church enters into the life of the Trinity. Furthermore, the church brings glory to God by reflecting the image of the Trinity in the community we were created to be. This worship is done primarily through relationships within the community of believers in Christ with the empowerment of the Spirit. It has nothing to do songs or sermons, buildings or budgets. It has everything to do with how we live our lives in communion with the triune God and with each other. These are the worshipers the Father seeks.
Volf, Miroslav. After Our Likeness: The Church as the Image of the Trinity (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998).
Ware, Bruce A. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: Relationships, Roles, and Relevance (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2005).
 This statement and some of what follows can equally be applied to the individual believer. I have refrained from making the case for the individual in the interest of keeping things simple and highlighting how the community of believers follows the pattern of the Trinity.
 It is not my intent to make light of anyone’s painful experiences, but we all must attempt to understand God as he has revealed himself, and not lean too heavily on our prior experience or preconceived notions.
This is the first of a series of articles that looks at the impact the Trinity has on Christian worship. The material has been adapted from my doctoral thesis.
The doctrine of the Trinity is a knot of seeming contradictions that is held together by the belief that everything revealed in Scripture is true. This bundle of contradictions sits at the center of the Christian faith much like the hub of a wheel. At its core, the Trinity is a way of understanding who God is in himself. As such, all Christian doctrine flows from the reality of the Trinity. What the individual or church believes about the Trinity will either true the wheel of belief or skew it one way or another. There are three main propositions in the doctrine of the Trinity that must all be affirmed: 1) there are three persons, 2) each person is fully God, and 3) there is only one God. These affirmations guide us in the study of Scripture allowing as much of a glimpse into the infinite that the finite can hope for.
One of the first things that come into focus as we reflect on the Trinity is the relationship that exists between the three persons. The name given in Matthew 28, Father, Son, and Spirit, describes the Divine relationships evidenced in the pages of the New Testament. These relationships define each member of the Trinity based on his relation with the other two. The Son is the Son precisely because of his relationship to the Father, who is likewise Father because of his relationship to the Son and the Spirit. Moreover, these relations are eternal. The Father is eternally Father because the Son exists eternally. These distinctions between the persons as Father, Son, and Spirit are tremendously important to the Christian faith. Were these differences merely temporary, the whole of hope of the Christian would be only empty promises because humanity’s relationship with God takes place in and through the incarnate Christ. Imagine for a moment that Christ decided that he didn’t want to be human anymore. There would no longer be a human being bound up in the eternal love of God, and by extension we would no longer have a place in the triune life. Beyond being a foundation for salvation, the distinctions between the persons of the triune God also give rise to a perceivable order in which they not only relate to each other but to creation as well.
Before investigating this order, however, we must briefly look at perichoresis. Stanley Grenz defines perichoresis as “the interrelation, partnership, and mutual dependence of the trinitarian members not only in the workings of God but even more foundationally in all their very subsistence as the one God.” To put it another way, each of the persons of the Trinity, being completely God, contains the other two within himself. This mutual indwelling means that whenever one of the persons is in view, the others must necessarily come into the picture as well, for none exists alone. Examining the three persons draws us inevitably back to the one being and the one leads back to the three. Additionally, perichoresis is not merely a state of being but also impacts the way in which God acts. Whatever God does, it is the Trinity as a whole that does it – wherever one member acts, the three act together.
As the three act together, a discernable pattern emerges in which the action begins with the Father and is accomplished through the Son in the power of the Spirit. This pattern of from the Father, through the Son, and in the Spirit is repeated over and over in Scripture. Nearly everything God does exhibits this order. Conversely, when the movement follows in the opposite direction, it is a movement of worship. The Spirit glorifies the Son, who in turn glorifies the Father. What is more, the cycle of glorification does not end there. The Son is glorified by the Father and in turn, becomes the glory of the Spirit. The Trinity functions a community in which the Divine Persons eternally give and experience perfect love in the form of worship.
The ramifications of the economic order of the Trinity on worship are enormous. Too often worship is thought of as the action of the believer toward God. But within the trinitarian paradigm, worship is first and foremost the action of the Trinity and we are allowed to participate in the giving and receiving of love by the power of the Spirit. Worship does not begin and end with a church service or anything we do; it is eternal and ongoing within the Godhead. As we enter into worship by the power of the Spirit, we enter into the Son’s continual worship of the Father. From a human perspective, Christ is the only one true worshiper and we participate through him. Christ holds a unique position as the incarnate Son, he is both completely God and completely human and the only fit mediator between God and humanity. James B. Torrance notes that this mediation is a “relationship between God and humanity realized vicariously for us in Christ, and at the same time a relationship between Christ and the Church, that we might participate by the Spirit in Jesus’ communion with the Father in a life of intimate communion.”
The writer of Hebrews calls Jesus our leitourgos, which means minister or worship leader. By following the example of Christ we learn how to worship, and it is by worshiping united with Christ in the Spirit that communion with the Father is achieved, and the life of the Trinity open to humanity. Such a scheme is certainly Christocentric but not to the exclusion of the Father or the Spirit. Each person of the triune God is active and involved in bring people to worship, and our worship should recognize each member of the Trinity. Worship that focuses on only one person of the Godhead to the detriment of the others is a misrepresentation of the reality of the Trinity. Even worse is worship that recognizes God without any remembrance of the Three.
It is all well and good to say that the Trinity exhibits order, exists as a community of love, and that Jesus is the prime worship leader, but does this stuff really have any bearing on the lives of actual Christians? There are two broad categories of practical application that we will focus on in the next parts of the series: the church as worship, and the church at worship.
Cocksworth, Christopher. Holy, Holy, Holy: Worshiping the Triune God (London: Darton, Longman, and Todd Ltd, 1997).
Letham, Robert. The Holy Trinity: In Scripture, History, Theology, and Worship (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2004).
Parry, Robin A. Worshiping Trinity: Coming Back to the Heart of Worship (Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books, 2012).
Thompson, John. Modern Trinitarian Perspectives (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994).
Torrance, James B. Worship, Community, and the Triune God of Grace (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1996).
 Stanley J. Grenz, Theology for the Community of God (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994), 68.
 James B. Torrance, Worship, Community, and the Triune God of Grace (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1996), 31.