Category Archives: Worship

Stuff on worship

Beyond the Veil

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When Moses came down the mountain from his meeting with a God carrying the two stone tablets of the covenant law – his face shone beams of light, his face was SO radiant that he had to wear a veil. The face of one who had met face to face with God, was too much for those who had not (and could not). From then on, Moses unveiled his face when he went in to the tabernacle and met with God, replacing the veil when he was with the people to hide the radiance. Temple worship proceeded from then . . . We fast forward to those from the temple in Jesus day, who had become corrupt and crooked – the temple where the tables were overturned, the home of those who plotted Jesus’ downfall, the place of the pious, the set apart, the elite – the people who sent the temple guards (not roman soldiers) to arrest Jesus. Those FROM the temple, wanting to get rid of and destroy the very one who should have been the focus of their worship!

On the cross, as Jesus is breathing his last, the temple veil is torn in two. This veil separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple – only the High Priest could go in. The equivalent of Moses meeting with God up the mountain or in the tabernacle. With Jesus death two things are being emphasised when the curtain is torn in two:

:: Everyone now has access to the holy of holies, to this most intimate place of worship. Anyone and everyone can come, Jesus makes this possible by dealing once and for all with sin and death.
:: Temple worship is finished.

As we arrive at Easter Sunday morning I am just pondering if we really live beyond the veil? Is everyone welcome – are all able to come? Do we still have ‘worship’ pecking orders in the church? Do we live unveiled lives? Surely, my face should be more radiant than it is – I have Christ IN me by the power of the Holy Spirit! I am also asking whether sometimes in the church we have returned to a kind of temple worship. We measure commitment, still (though we might say we don’t) according to attendance at worship services in buildings. We measure our effectiveness at being ‘church’ on how many we can gather in one place on a Sunday – rather than whether those from our worshipping communities are seeking to live out their unveiled – Jesus is alive – all are welcome – all can come in – lives in a world in such desperate need.

The temple was done with. Even after the great commission from Jesus, to GO – it was some years later, and with a challenge from Paul to the Jerusalem based apostles – they needed to get OUT and move on! Things would no longer be centred around the temple, around Jerusalem – the veil has been torn, the temple is DONE and – Beyond it is a world waiting to be born.

When there is nothing to say – the stillness of creation

So, sometimes I have nothing to say. That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t blog about it! I am sat in the garden, it is a peaceful, still (but for the wind whispering through the trees) ‘moment’ – I am vaguely aware of children in the background somewhere – talking to each other out in the street. I can also hear, now I am trying to listen a distant plane, the cars on the road the other side of row of houses, which is the others side of the garden.

I am aware that the world around me has no need of my voice, my words, my input, my earnest theological reflection – the trees don’t care, the wind is oblivious, the cars rush by their passengers cocooned from an throng I might utter anyway!

It is good to sit and not need to say anything. I should consider this moment, remember it! When else are my words, my actions, my nervous energy in a room – when else are those things ‘not needed’ but in my insecurity I feel I HAVE to say something! Do something!

It is good to sit here and be unable (even if I felt the urge) to add anything to this picture by opening my gob, or getting up and stomping round the garden.

So, I’m just going to sit – and say and do nothing for a bit, apart from drink a cold bottle of Corona that is.

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Whale Vomit Worship

whale vomitWorship – it is what we are made for.  Saint Augustine says, from “The Confessions”;

And so we men, who are a due part of your creation, long to praise you – we also carry our mortality about with us, carry the evidence of our sin and with it the proof that you thwart the proud. You arouse us so that praising you may bring us joy, because you have made us and drawn us to yourself, and our heart is unquiet until it rests in you.”

Well, in nature there is a picture that certainly helps me as I think about my own meager offerings of worship and praise.  Whale Vomit.

Spurgeon once said, “Let your thoughts be psalms, your prayers incense, and your breath praise.”  This sounds great.  Let me say again then . . . Whale Vomit.

The first thing is: God is amazing, He is stunning, He is worthy to be praised – He is WORTH it, hence our understanding worship to mean WORTHShip, giving something its worth.  The other thing is, I am not amazing.  I am not stunning.  Scripture highlights this when it comes to what we can offer to God, Isaiah 64:6 says my best is like filthy rags.  Nothing I have that I can give matches the perfection and the gobsmacking amazingness that is God.  In other words: Whale Vomit.

Scougal, a Scottish legend when it comes to devotional writing wrote an awesome little book called, “The Life of God in the Soul of Man”, (check it out if you have never read it), in this he says, “The worth and excellency of a soul is measured by the object of its love.”  That sounds about right.  My worth has nothing to do with me, because I am rubbish – it is all to do with where I direct my attention, what is the object of my worship?  Who do I worship?  What nurtures my soul (depraved and awful as it is) . . . It is all about the one we worship – God.  Not what we have to offer Him – Whale Vomit.

Wait though . . . something CHANGES when those God created (however messed up we have become through sin and selfishness, our feeble weaknesses), turn to Him in worship and adoration.  God is not changed by our worship – He cannot get better, be more Holy, be “added to” by anything we can bring and offer.  No.  We are changed.  Whale Vomit.

The thing about Whale Vomit is this – it is the rubbish the Whale needs to get rid of, there is a technical term for this stuff the whale dispels, it is called Ambergris.  The Whale normally Poos this stuff – unless it builds up and gets too big, in which case we believe that the whale vomits it out of its mouth.  Now over time, with this natural rubbish that the whale needs to get rid of – something incredible happens.  The smell becomes sweet, musky, earthy AND costly!  A man found a great lump of it (pictured above) and he has been told he might get as much as £100,000 for it – that is sick!  Literally.

This ambergris has been used for years to create perfume and incense.  It may well have been used in tabernacles and temples in the Old Testament days to make incense that was to be a constant fragrance of worship in the holy places.  God CHANGES us and CHANGES our rubbish stuff, offered humbly, into something sweet, something costly, something beautiful.   Jonah was vomited from a big fish and brought something sweet to the people of Ninevah (and, eventually, even Jonah was changed – but it took time!)

I don’t know where you are with your worship, what you offer God, whether you think it is worth it, whether God notices.  Whatever you think as you give the best of your rubbishness – just remember.

Whale Vomit.

Church and Community

Well, not a very descriptive title for this post!  Thinking a lot about what it “is”, this thing called “Church” . . . there are a few references in scripture (not many actually), but the word in Greek literally means “community of the called out ones”.

Community – this is challenging!  community for me is about being together, about building something and people being part of something, belonging.  Yet, we are also “resident aliens” (a very good book by Hauerwas is here if you want a more detailed look at that)  – how do we live in this tension of “being apart from” whilst also being “welcoming”?  A bunch of churches have a strap line which reads, “In the community for the community” (I don’t know any churches that have the strap line, “in the community for the community but not of the community”.  That would be weird!  The thing is, coming in and discovering this community thing called “Church” should be transformative . . the life of Christ, filling the community with His presence, when we turn to Christ we become “new creations” the old has gone, something new has come . . . the thing is – and I am thinking this about church in general – it is not our worship practice that transforms us.  How we worship, or choose to worship does not transform us, whether I raise my hands in sung praise or not – this does not transform me; sitting through a 40 minute exegetical sermon does not transform me; having communion regularly does not transform me – these activities can only be transforming, renewing, restoring if the Spirit of God is present and we are expectant and we say “yes” to him working in our lives.  Everything can be ritual for rituals sake – but rituals do not transform us.  The problem for us too, in this community, is that we allow our different practices to define “belonging” . . . “you are welcome to come in, just learn to “worship” like us” . . . I don’t want to be like you in your worship, I want to be like me in my worship – and, I also don’t want to become like you (nice though you might be), I want to become like Christ!

Called Out – which brings us to this “called out” thing.  Christ likeness is the most blindingly obvious way in which we should be marked as different.  Only Jesus Christ managed to make those who society (often religious society) had rejected feel that they absolutely belonged in his presence.  He lived a perfect life, was not influenced or corrupted by the rubbish around Him and remained a friend of sinners (people like you and me), yet sometimes our way of being called out seems to be the almost opposite of what Jesus did.  We define ourselves in a way that even has us not mixing with others in the CHURCH because they don’t worship like us or have out doctrine . . . where on earth did we see Jesus model this?  Across his disciples (12 of them being a pretty significant number . .. and so much more important than their gender – but that is a whole other discussion) were a whole bunch of very different Jews, these guys would not have met each other apart from Jesus, and apart from Jesus would not have wanted to associate with each other – we don’t pick up much of this tension, as what they all held in common was being called to Jesus . . . we get hung up on the called out . . . being separate from, when we should be focusing on the being called to . . . being united with Jesus.

A community then, becoming more like Christ and calling others to join us as Christ calls them too . . . wow, that is something amazing to be part of.

 

 

REVIEW // Worship Central: Let it Be Known

imagesIt does not seem five minutes since “Spirit Break Out”, the previous album from Worship Central . . . but hey, that’s me getting old.  What is not OLD is the sound, the songs and the sense of the Spirit on this great new album.

Kicking off the album, “Ready for You” is a track that sets up the rest of the album, we don’t have to do a bunch of things before we come into God’s presence – we are His children, we are welcome, we have this freedom!  Lets, come, lets be ready – as God works in us . . . hearts open, “ready for you” . . . “God Most High” driven along by the drums, this upbeat track lifts the eyes and spirit as we recognise who we worship and praise God, declaring His worth and glory.  The title track is deservedly so!  A cracking tune (which I played to a bunch of children at our midweek club . . . they loved it at first listen!), “Let it be Known” is released as a single on 17th Feb 13, just go and get it – because it is an infectious, pop infused, joyful track – it is impossible to listen to without worshiping and without moving!

Now comes a track which leaves me with goosebumps and is my stand out favourite on the album, “The Cross Stands” . . . the lyrics are stunning, every line receives a silent (not always silent) amen from me.  There is a longing cry within the song, but it ultimately fueled by hope, “Christ has overcome . . . it is finished, He has won” being the bridge that needs to be shouted from the rooftops, from the streets, in our homes and our lives . . . this track is among the best I have ever head on the Cross.

Dry Bones” a devotional song, both gentle and demanding at the same time.  The gentle rhythm of the song cannot hide the demanding lyrics – do we want to change? do we want God to have His way in us? . . . and as the song builds, YES, “these dry bones can live – we’re nothing without you” a song that takes us on a journey from hopelessness to a place of life and possibility!  “Kingdom Coming” follows and is a declaration of what has, and what is happening when the Kingdom of Jesus is present . . . I also LOVE the bridge with “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy” (In the Greek, known as the Kyrie Eleison), the mixing of the ancient with the contemporary should form a greater part of our worship . . . LOVE IT!  

Guardian” A song I already knew, and – my first thought actually (which was a surprise to me!) was this is an absolutely cracking track for a mens gathering.  Although I don’t personally  have an issue with singing songs about Jesus being beautiful etc – I know that some men do.  Well, seriously guys, sing this song – you will be able to belt it out – the words are true, it is proclaimational and nails where our hope and our confidence should reside – in our Guardian!  Also great is the way the lyrics echo great prayers of the past with the idea that God is before us and beside us and around us . . . an anthemic, congregational crowd pleaser.

Draw me close” an intimate and atmospherically rendered track on the album, acknowledging again our weakness, our need, a song of promises too – God being our comfort, our sustainer – this is not a song about triumphantly overcoming the pain in our lives, but about recognising that in the midst of our pain, suffering and the human condition that “He is here with us”, I love the honesty reflected in these lyrics, especially, “EVEN now”, (with what I have done Lord?  with how I feel Lord?) YES, even now.

The Constant” I am loving the mixture of devotional intimacy and proclaiming it LOUD who Jesus is and where we need to put our trust and confidence.  If ever we needed to sing these words, is it in the World (and the Church) right now, everything else might change . . . but we have a God of Hope and a God who is Constant.

Hallelujah”  it is apparent from the short passages of praise and adoration in Revelation that we do not need loads of words to make our worship meaningful, I can imagine this tune be sung around the throne – and when we sing it here on earth, that the angels are joining in.  A mantra of a song of worship that is praise but also a reminder to us of how our lives and our thoughts and our attitudes should be lived . . . be glorified!

Our Generation”  A different song, but reminded me of “Can a nation be changed?”  We need to be reminded to sing these songs, and thankfully they keep being written too – UNTIL we see it happen, much like the persistent widow – this is a song for justice, a song for freedom – and – like many of the songs on this album, this needs to be more than a song to be sung but a song that sends us to our knees . . . naturally following on from this is what sounds like, on the album at least,  the spontaneous “Set me Free“, a prayer as much as a song . . . and an illustration of the wholeness of the album, this is not just a bunch of songs . . . I feel like I have been on a journey as I have listened to it straight through, growing, progressing, discovering and learning about worship as I worship.  I don’t know if that was a plan or not (maybe it is just me!), but these songs hang together and the right stuff is in the right place on the right album . . .

One of the stand out verses in scripture for me is Romans 8:11, the title of this track, “The Same Power“, another great song about the REASON we can sing about the Cross, because Christ rose again and conquered death . . . powerful, punchy and an Easter Sunday song if ever I heard one!

There is so much in this album, great Bible filled and Spirit fueled lyrics, tunes that stick – both the congregational and the quiet personal devotional alongside just some great stadium filling tunes.  I am not knocking songs (and even albums) of the recent past – but, as I have listened to this – by comparison some have felt lightweight  fluffy, and churned out . . . this is a rich, deep, album for disciples of Jesus – and wherever you are on your journey – buy this album, play this album, sing these songs – but more important than singing “Let it be known” is if we allow songs like these to be the breath of our worship and – as we worship and encounter God – that we might be transformed increasingly into the likeness of Christ.

Album Rating: 5/5

“Joy to the World” Review

Joy to the World – New Wine Christmas Album

There is much more to this CD than 10 Christmas songs . . . you get all the backing tracks (if you are in a church that struggles with getting musos you can still get stuck in and sing!)  The CD also has a load of Christmas resources for you to run your own event . . . if not in time for this year then start planning now for 2011 . . . this stuff is accessed by sticking the CD into your computer, Mark Griffiths (who wrote “Detonate”, “Fusion” and “Impact” and “Dont tell cute stories – change lives” and, just last year, “One Generation from Extinction” – visit his Amazon page [here]) – this is quality stuff and all for £10.

Ok, to the songs themselves (stand out tracks) . . . track 1 is a thumping, driving version of  “O Come all ye Faithful” – which just makes you want to get on your feet . . . track 3 “Sent from Above”, a new one from Simon Parry, just gets into your head (Simon has a real gift for writing simple and catchy songs for children) track 7 “Great is He”, a straightforward refrain . . . but Nigel Hemmings enthusiastic vocals keeps the track going (with, it has to be said, some great musicianship . . . which is evident throughout the album) track 9 “Hark the Herald”, a slightly bizarre hill billy – we are off to a barn dance thing going on . . . but somehow, it worked (genius with a hint of madness) and we finish with track 10, the “Joy to the World” of the title.
On the whole this is a “good to great” album, although  sometimes the vocals struggle (especially on “O Holy Night”, but then I am comparing the vocal to Mariah Careys version!)
Well worth getting for the stand out tracks and for all the extras that come with it – will bear repeatedly listening over the Christmas period, and not just an album – but a ministry resources too.