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Worship - September 2021

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Of all the ministries that are going to be kicking off again this fall, I am really excited about student gatherings starting up again, particularly because I get to assist Pastor Brian in relaunching the student praise band. Student worship ministries have a very dear place in my heart. I grew up in a musical family, and thoroughly enjoyed playing trumpet in my local public school. But it was the worship gathering of my local church where I truly fell in love with music, and the student praise band was foundational in starting me down the road toward music ministry. Now, I know first hand that the sounds a 13 year old can make with an electronically amplified instrument are not always pretty. But it is incredibly exciting to see young people learn and develop their musical abilities over the course of a school year, or even just a semester.

However, as exciting as it is to help students grow musically, it is far more exciting and important to help them develop a healthy theology of worship that will protect them and build them up into God glorifying worshippers. Along with playing an instrument or singing on a stage comes a lot of attention. There’s just no way around that. And every time we step up onto a stage we are tempted to take our focus off of glorifying God and onto glorifying ourselves. But our goal is not to train up talented musicians. It’s to train up godly lead worshippers. That is a long discipleship based process, but I’d like to take a few minutes and share with you where we are going to start that process.

I have found that the greatest commandment provides us with an excellent foundation on which we can build our theology of worship, and that goes for those who are on the stage as well as for those in the congregation. We all need to check our ideas and feelings about musical worship against this theological framework, so let’s do that together. In Matthew 22:37 we read, “And he [Jesus] said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.” (ESV). Now, if we are to love God with all of our heart, soul and mind (Mark adds strength as well), that encompasses our whole being. Therefore, we should be able to find application for this command in every aspect of our lives and beings, and our corporate worship is no exception.

This should not be surprising to anyone. Of course worship should be centered around and permeated by our love for God. After all, If we were not actively loving Him, then our worship would not be very worshipful, would it? Actually, you might want to stop and think about that for a moment, and it is pretty much my whole point. If we are participating in musical worship out of any motivation other than love for God then it is not Him whom we are worshipping. I could talk about this point all day, and about how we love God well in worship by singing words that are true about Him because He is lovely, but we need to move on and read Jesus’ next words.

Without even pausing for effect Jesus adds these words, “And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Other translations use the word hang. All the Law and the Prophets is a lot to hang on these two commandments, but we are right to hang our theology of worship on this framework as well. So how in the world do we love our neighbor while we worship? Well, once again part of that is by singing words that are true about God, because we are bearing witness to the loveliness of God. In doing so we are stirring our brothers and sisters up to love and adore God, which is certainly a loving thing for us to do. I have also written previously about how in Colossians 3:16 we are told to teach and admonish one another, “singing Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” Teaching and admonishing each other is also loving and is an important part of loving our neighbor as ourselves, because we need to be taught and admonished too.

So we have talked about loving God, and we have briefly talked about loving our neighbors, so where in this equation do we get to talk about ourselves and what we want to experience in worship? Well, the fact is, that is not part of the equation, and that is the very first lesson I hope to teach our young lead worshippers. Worship is not about me. It is certainly not about displaying my musical talents for other people to ooh and ah over. It is all about God, loving Him, and loving His people, and when we realize that, it allows us to experience corporate worship like never before. 

Posted by Derek Niffenegger with

Worship - August 2021

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All Scripture is God breathed and profitable, but you've got to love passages where God gets right down to business and tells us what we need to do and why. And when it comes to knowing what God wants me to do and why, I can always count on the Apostle Paul to tell it like it is. The book of Ephesians is full of practical instruction for the individual believer and for the church, but today I want to look briefly at the end of chapter 4 and beginning of chapter 5.

Paul instructs the church in Ephesus, "Let ALL bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with ALL malice." (Eph. 4:31, emphasis added).  Sadly, in too many churches these words go unheeded, but that is not what I want to focus on today. These sins of bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander and malice are a fast growing and aggressive cancer to both the soul and the body of Christ. These sins have no place in the family of God. Instead, Paul charges us, "Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you." (Eph. 4:32). Instead of taking offense, we are to be kind and tender hearted. And rather than allowing the root of bitterness to grow within our hearts we are to freely offer forgiveness, especially with the body of Christ.

Now, I know you may be thinking, "I can't forgive that person, you don't know what they have put me through". And you are probably right. It may very well be that I do not understand and cannot empathize with the pain that you have experienced at the hands of another person. The fact of the matter is, only on occasion have I ever truly been hurt by someone, and even then, it has rarely been that person's intention to cause me harm. Rarer still has that person been someone who was close to me, whom I loved and trusted. I don't pretend to understand the agony that you have felt, and I would not dare hold myself up as an example and say, "If I can forgive then so can you."

But I am not the standard by which you are to forgive, Christ is. And while I may not be able to empathize with your suffering, Christ can. And what we need to understand is that God has already forgiven us of infinitely greater trespasses than we could ever suffer and then be called upon to forgive. That is why Paul holds up the Thrice Holy God as our standard of forgiveness when he says, "as God in Christ forgave you." And he drives the point home in the next verses when he says, "Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Eph 5:1-2, emphasis added).

I do not appeal to you today as someone who has forgiven much, but as someone who has been forgiven much. I do not know what it means to forgive someone who has committed an unspeakable sin against me.  I do know (in part) what it means to have been forgiven by an infinitely holy God, although I will not fully understand until I see His face. And the fact of the matter is that the one who has forgiven us has commanded us to forgive as we have been forgiven.  I like to think of it this way. To be forgiven is to breathe in the life giving air of the gospel, and to forgive is to breathe the gospel back out again.

Posted by Derek Niffenegger with

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