Developing a Theology of Worship

 

This is for Jacob Ross and all those that appreciated my contributions to worship during my tenure at Midtown. A lot of thought and work went into what I did, and much of it was inspired by Phil Kirk. Of anyone I’ve ever discussed worship music with, I’ve found that my taste is the closest to his. Not only that, he introduced me to a lot of music I may never have heard otherwise.

Starting out, I played the role of Midtown’s equivalent of K-Love. I wasn’t familiar with much contemporary worship music and I had no idea how to go about selecting songs for the intermission or post-service. I just played whatever was popular at the time, which was pretty boring for me, and probably for everyone else too. Luckily for me, I got to sit in on a discussion about how Phil chooses worship music and how he narrows the song bank down weekly for the service. His thoughtful and meticulous approach inspired me to explore the world of worship music more.

In the beginning, a lot of things I tried fell flat. I would sit behind the board and watch to see how people would react to the music and they seemed bored or indifferent. If it was really bad, I had a certain someone in my ear to tell me about it, which helped a lot in the refining process too. Over the next few months, I began to experiment with the sounds of different genres and artists, and the results were hit or miss. I was seeing some progress, at least. Things wouldn’t take a turn for the better until I had a dream that had a song in it that bores me to tears.

The song in question is “10,000 Reasons”. I’ve always found the song really boring and it just aches my soul how popular it is in Christian circles. Having a dream about it changed the way I went about doing everything. I wanted to incorporate the song into what I do since other people like it, but there was no way I’d volunatarily suffer through it weekly. That’s when it dawned on me: Spotify has made many different versions of popular worship music available to me! I went on a search for a version of that song that I could tolerate and I stumbled across Christafari.

I found that not only did they have a version of the song that I actually like, they had versions of other popular songs that were being incorporated into worship every week. I tried it out to see if the congregation would like it, and it was a hit! People loved it! That Sunday, a lot of people even requested that I play nothing but them for the service. It was then that I hit my stride.

That week, I pillaged through Spotify playlists for variations of songs incorporated into worship regularly and I began playing them. From there, the reactions became a lot more positive. People began to approach me every week asking about the different artists and songs I chose, and that motivated me to keep pursuing that new approach.

Along the way, I learned a lot about traditional hymns and contemporary worship. I learned about psalmody and the what the discussions were about all those things. From there, I got even better. I was able to find songs of different eras that appealed to different members of the congregation, and the effort resonated with people. I was engaged by different people telling me stories of growing up listening to different songs during worship. It helped them to feel that their presence there was noticed. That also altered my course a little bit.

In the end, I learned to think on my feet and take a lot of things into account. Who was leading worship and what are they like stylistically? What was the sermon topic that day? Is there something in my song bank that’s congruent with both of those things? It was important to me to help create a cohesive worship experience every Sunday, and those are things I thought about. Once in a while, a song would even be mentioned by name within the sermon itself, so of course I’d have to scramble to find it to play immediately following the doxology.

I’ll give an example of what I did the last Sunday I was there. The sermon was about being content in Christ despite our circumstances, based on a text out of Philippians. In that we see Paul suffering a lot, but still having the peace of Christ. The worship leader on that day has a sound similar to Shane & Shane, so I had to keep that in mind too. I hastily threw together a playlist in my head as Corey prepared to give the benediction and followed with songs that tie together the message and worship pretty nicely if I do say so myself, lol:

Sovereign Grace Music – To Live is Christ
The Modern Post – It’s Not Enough
Jimmy Needham – It is Well
Dream Theater – The Bigger Picture

If I had more time to think this through, I would have played “Fix My Eyes” by King’s Kaliedoscope, but I didn’t think of that until I had already left. A lot of my thinking is on the fly for better or worse.

In closing, the last song I played for the last two months before shutting everything done was “Carry On Wayward Son” by Kansas. I always played that song last as a way to remind whoever else was left and myself that despite whatever struggle we were going to face throughout the day, peace is promised to us. There is no circumstance or sin too big for our God, so we’re free to lay our weary heads on Him.

(Note: I always thought it’s fine to play songs that aren’t exactly Christ centered like that at the VERY end, when most of the congregation is there. Though the songs have a Christian message, I wouldn’t want to distract people from their worship experience with music that doesn’t directly exalt Christ.)

Here’s the playlist, which will probably always be a work in progress, minus a few songs I only play for special occasions (Easter, Christmas, etc).

So, there you have it. A journey through my thought process behind the music that made people love what was different about me being behind the board. It didn’t happen overnight.  The current playlist is the fifth build (or something like that). At the beginning, a lot of things I tried didn’t work. Some of those same things that didn’t work then cause people’s faces to light up now because they know to expect something a little different from me. Thanks for challenging me to learn more and encouraging me when I was doing things that resonated within you all! There is still more to come. 🙂

Now that I’ve finally written all that, I need to read Justin’s parting gift to me: a book called “Theology of Worship”. I’m sure after reading that, I’ll end up again revising the way I do things. Thanks again, guys!!

We Are Midtown

When this is posted, I’ll be visiting Midtown Church for the last time as a regular attender. It’s going to be a very difficult and bittersweet day for me. I can’t imagine the emotions I’ll be feeling. I’m leaving a body of believers who have loved, encouraged, strengthened, and embraced me in ways I haven’t been able to accept up until my first visit. I have learned and grown a lot in the past two and a half years. The next steps I’m taking wouldn’t be without the experience I had there.

I remember my first visit very clearly. All I wanted was to have temporary fellowship with other Christians. I had plans to join another church I already had an existing relationship with, but it wasn’t possible at the time. I was just passing through, and I made it clearly known to anyone that approached me. I didn’t tell anyone, but I wasn’t even going to return a second Sunday. Their love for me, a stranger, changed my mind and my heart.

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I joined the congregation for the first time on December 7th, 2014. It was a dark season for me, which was one of the many reasons I had for never intending to remain there long enough to be known. Christmas was getting ever so nearer and things were just getting worse inside of me because of it. I just wanted it all to be over with so that the reminders of my struggles at that point would disappear. I was alone and approaching despair. The sooner Christmas could be over, the better I’d feel about the isolation I was in at the time. I was ready to force it to be over, but that’s when I got a message that changed everything.

Christmas Eve came and I was on the verge of despair. “I’ll just sleep through this”, I thought. I had a bottle of Captain Morgan on hand ready to knock myself out with. The second I opened the bottle, I got a private message on Facebook. To my surprise, it was from Corey Smith, the pastor at Midtown. He asked me for my phone number so he could give it to someone he had introduced me to. I gave it to him not thinking anything of it and I went on with my uneventful night. I wouldn’t return to that bottle again until the next day.

When I woke up Christmas Day, I contemplated all the things I could possibly do with other people before deciding I’d rather be in my shell. I went to that bottle and picked it up again, but I was interrupted by another message. This one was an invitation to join a family from the church for dinner. Strangely for me at the time, I felt compelled to accept the offer. With a sigh of exhaustion I asked aloud “You really don’t want me to do this, do you?”. I ended up shelving that bottle again that night and instead went to have dinner.

They were so gracious to me. So gracious, I was internally bewildered. I didn’t know how to respond to strangers inviting me into their home and treating me like family. I did not understand this kind of embrace. There I was coping with what felt like a life long war with acceptance issues while I was sharing a meal with them and celebrating the birth of Christ.

My plan failed. I wanted to be a ghost, but how could I after experiencing that? It took Midtown only two weeks to penetrate my heart. The love there enticed me to stay, so I did. Even more shocking to me, this kind of affection was not limited to just that family. Many times over, I was invited to be a part of fellowship people were having in their homes for Christ’s name sake. I was welcomed to do so much with so many that I never really had the chance to take it all on. Slowly, but surely, I was beginning to understand why this church had such a different air about it.

“By this all people will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another”. – John 13:35

It would take some time for me to set my pride aside enough to accept that this truth was being revealed to me right before my eyes. In my habit of returning to my isolation, I got myself into a lot of trouble. I caused much grief to people that care for me and would have been there if I allowed them. My selfishness could have ruined my life, or worse yet, the lives of some innocent strangers. It all happened because I refused to be truly seen.

The first chance I got to share my experience with Corey, I did. He preached about walking in the light that Sunday. It was fitting that I confessed my sin to anyone that would hear me that day. In turn, some secret sins were confessed to me. It was then that I was truly a part of the body. I was seen and I was allowed to see some unpleasant sides of people that I was growing to love more and more. We confided in one another and trusted one another. It was intimacy I never thought possible, but I knew it wasn’t enough. I had to continue to push myself. I had to serve this church.

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It was then I was given the opportunity to run the soundboard, which was a huge blessing for me. It was behind that board that my love for music, my desire to serve, and being a witness to the love that’s at Midtown all came together. Sometimes, I would find myself still sitting behind that board an hour after the services were over just watching people. I would watch people I don’t even know show their affections for their friends and family, I would marvel at it. It made me feel so blessed to be a part of the church.

There’s no way I could end this without saying just how much fun it was to entertain the congregation. I would play some songs just to see how people would react (which thankfully was positively that vast majority of the time). From Johnny Cash reading the gospel to John Petrucci shredding it up in a song about faith, I kept things pretty unpredictable and diverse. I made it a point to choose songs that would tie into the day’s sermon if I was quick witted enough to figure something out too.

There were lots of tedious little things going through my mind that influenced what was being played.. nevertheless, what kept me motivated to keep getting better were those special reactions I would get sometimes. Some people would sing, some would dance, some would come to the board to ask me about the artists I was playing (especially Christafari!). Every weekend was truly a blessing to be part of that atmosphere. It helped me to understand what it means to have something “make your heart glad”. Alas, after being a regular for two and a half years and serving for roughly two of them, my time is coming to a close.

People of Midtown, your for love not only for one another, but the world around you is nothing short of astonishing. I truly believe the hand of God is on you and empowering this love to make a great change to anyone exposed to it. Without God using you in this way, I still would not be able to accept what it is to truly be a part of the body of Christ. That is what I wish to take with me on my walk from here on.

This isn’t goodbye by any means. There’s no such thing as such for us Christians. One way or the other, we’ll have fellowship again. Until then, thank you.

The Skeptics Annotated Bible

A Christian turned skeptic set out on the laborious task of showing that the bible is not inerrant, not the word of a loving God, and the reason for faith is largely because people don’t actually read the bible or teach all of it. Here’s a blurb from the author:

“The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible (SAB) attempts to remedy this imbalance. It includes the entire text of the King James Version, but without the pro-Bible propaganda. Instead, passages are highlighted that are an embarrassment to the Bible-believer, and the parts of the Bible that are never read in any Church, Bible study group, or Sunday School class are emphasized. For it is these passages that test the claims of the Bible-believer. The contradictions and false prophecies show that the Bible is not inerrant; the cruelties, injustices, and insults to women, that it is neither good nor just.”

Have a look at the full site here. The author put in quite some time and effort into this project. There’s even a random verse from the bible displayed on the homepage that could be troubling for some believers. Through and through, it’s all pretty elaborate. He divides his arguments up by category, even! To his credit, he even links the Christian response to his website, a response that took seven years to complete. See the rebuttal to SAB here.

In this back and forth, it’s presupposed that truth, rationality, morality, and consistency are all of the utmost importance. What worldview gives the basis to account for any of that? Why is the outcome of examining the bible for errors or atrocities of any relevance? These two authors have all the same information and are coming to differing conclusions. What does this mean about the problem that remains? Who’s being consistent with their worldview in this debate?

 

 

The Outer Darkness

If someone asked the question “how could a loving God send anyone to hell?”, how would you answer? There are lots of presuppositions behind that question. It suggests that God isn’t just in sending people to hell. It suggests that hell isn’t a fit punishment for anyone. It suggests that a God that would subject anyone to such a cruel fate isn’t worthy of our worship. It makes man judge over God.

Another question to ask is this: how could God be a God of justice and mercy if people didn’t go to hell? For the victim of sexual abuse, would heaven be a safe place if the unrepentant rapist was there? For the children, would heaven be a safe place if the child molester was there? Would there be harmony in heaven if members of the KKK held their rallies there? Would heaven be a place where we truly set free of sin if we still had to lock our doors in fear of the thieves, the liars, and murderers?

“And the King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me.’ Then He will say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” – Matthew 25:40-41

From this scripture, I’d argue hell isn’t even a place made for us. Alas, it’s a place where the justice of God will be meted out. Scripture also makes it clear what our standing before God is by default. Outside of Christ, we’re described as “haters of God”, “children of wrath”, “having no righteousness of our own”, “dead in sin”, and so on. By our sinful nature, we don’t want God. Why would someone that hates the law of God even want to go to heaven to be with Him for eternity? We don’t.

Not only that, but think about this: we’re made in the image of God. Like God, we have the ability to be rational about our positions. So, think about the law you have set forth in your own home that you’ve been blessed with. Would you allow people into your home if they refused to obey the rules you’ve set forth? What would it take for you to kick someone out of your home?

My advice to anyone with questions about God’s justice is to look at the ground we stand on as part of creation. Outside of God, there is no such thing as justice, morality, or the like. There is only what is. It’s all completely neutral. We’re free to confess these foolish words with our lips, but none of lives as if this is true. I’ll close with words from a man much wiser than myself.

Christianity and Climate Change

“I read this morning a newsweek article from the 1970s talking about global cooling. It said the science is clear. It is overwhelming. We’re in a major cooling period and it’s going to cause enormous problems worldwide and the solution for all the advocates in the 70’s of global cooling was massive government control of the energy sector of the economy and aspects of our lives. Now, the data proved to be not backing up of that theory. So then, all the advocates of global cooling suddenly shifted to global warming. And they advocated it’s warming and the solution, interesting enough was the exact same solution: government control of the energy sector and every aspect of our lives. But then the data don’t back that up. So, if you notice, the terms have shifted and now it’s climate change. And again, the solution is government control of the energy sector and every aspect of our lives. And when someone keeps proposing the same solution regardless of the problem, you start to think maybe they just like government control of the energy sector and every aspect of our lives.”

When it comes to data, we all have presuppositions to filter through before we decide what the information placed before us means. Some say that global cooling / global warming / climate change is happening, some say it isn’t, and some say it is, but not to any significant degree. People with all the same data are coming up with different theories to what may or may not be happening.

I have my take on this, but my intention in writing this isn’t to sway anyone’s belief one way or the next. All I’m going to do is state what the Christian approach to this is. By that I mean, what does the bible say about climate? My go to verse is Genesis 8:22:

“While the earth remains, Seedtime and harvest, And cold and heat, And summer and winter, And day and night Shall not cease.”

In context, this verse follows the aftermath of the flood. God promises not to punish the wicked in this way again. In saying that the cold and heat, summer and winter will not cease, He’s practically guaranteeing that the seasons will continue to change. Based on that scripture alone, if global warming climate change is happening, it won’t be so significant that the seasons will cease to change. To be explicitly clear, we don’t have to worry about the climate destroying the earth.

If the climate was going to destroy the earth, why would Jesus tell us the meek would inherit it (Psalm 37:11, Matthew 5:5, Romans 4:13, Isaiah 60:21, etc)? Over and over and over, the word of God confirms for us that God is sovereign over the weather. Let’s not forget, one of the most famous signs that Jesus showed was the calming of the storm. If He is indeed the risen Christ, will the weather not continue to obey Him?

As Christians, we have the responsibility to continue to tend to this garden we’ve been given. The science behind this discussion is important to help us facilitate the means to make the right decisions concerning it. Does it not honor God to seek renewable energy sources, to reduce waste, and to reduce our carbon footprint? Of course, it does! For these reasons, I would not argue with a Christian on this issue no matter where they’re at on the spectrum of ideas. My only concern would be to what degree their belief lies. Either extreme can potentially lead up to some bad decisions. More importantly, they both could lead up to thinking that’s just not biblical, and that’s the most important thing for the Christian.

More from Smarter People
On the Sovereignty of God Over Weather
How Christians View Climate Change
Where is that quote from?
Bill Nye Debates Climate Change

Songs of Ancient Israel

Have you ever wondered what it was like to sing the songs that Jesus sang? What was it like to sing the psalms of David? What did they sound like? What kind of instruments did they use? What was the phrasing like? If you’re passionate about worship and music, these things may intrigue you. From the digging around I’ve done, I’ve found this intrigue is actually common in this age! A lot of people share this same interest!

It’s been fascinating to find that there are artists that still sing songs in Hebrew. I haven’t found anything concrete on the inspiration behind the melodies, unfortunately! A simple search on Youtube will turn up similar performances of different psalms. If you’re interested in singing the songs in English, I’ve found a few projects revolving around that idea too!

There’s an artist known simply as “Shane” that’s setting all the psalms to contemporary worship style music. His endeavor is called “The Psalms Project“. As of this post, he’s put out three albums that span 30 psalms. He’s planning on composing material for all 150 psalms. This ambitious idea is tentatively going to take over two decades should he get the opportunity to finish it. Check out his progress on Spotify!

There are numerous guides out there too. There’s lots of information to be found about Gregorian chants, developing a meter, the history of psalms as worship, so on and so forth. All these things can be found easily by a google or YouTube search. There are some resources on Amazon for the scholarly artists among us as well.

I haven’t checked them out yet, but I’ve heard that the Sons of Korah have done some arrangements of the Psalms too. There’s also some arguments to be heard about exclusive psalmody (worship exclusively through psalms) and inclusive psalmody (including the psalms in worship). Here are a few resources to mull over:

Psalm Singing and Scripture Study
Worship From Genesis to Revelation
Music, Song, and Worship – A Brief Overview
Inclusive Psalmody

My Reason

What would you say if someone asked you what your reasons were for your faith? I’ve wrestled with this for a long time. I’ve studied apologetics, theology, biology, geology, cosmology, and other subjects to varying degrees so I could come up with an answer. Frustratingly enough, I’ve learned a lot, but I still haven’t been able to clearly articulate the reason for my faith. Just a few days ago, I realized the answer wasn’t in the books. God has already revealed to me what I need to say, I’ve just never thought to say. My answer is this: I know that God exists because He spoke to me directly.

During that time of my life, I was tragedy waiting to happen. I was whirlwind of chasing skirts, poppin’ bottles, and a deeply ingrained rage at what felt like the whole world. Everything seemed so pointless and empty. Brokenness was all around me. Friends betrayed friends, husbands betrayed wives,  mothers betrayed daughters, and so on. Outside of what I could see around me, my thoughts of people are out there dying from starvation, disease epidemics, natural disasters, the list goes on.

In my mind, God was busy dealing with those things. There was no way He had time for me and my little problems in the grand scheme of things. I just hoped I did good enough not to end up in hell when my life was over. In the mean time, it was up to me to find any semblance of joy on this side of life, but it was a futile endeavour. When I got to my worst and stopped caring about whether I lived or died, He spoke directly to me.

I’ll never forget that night. It was Sunday, January 20th, 2013 around 11pm. I was shut up in my room wrestling with the things I’ve personally done that have added to the world’s misery and suffering. Grief was overwhelming me to the point that I could see literal blood on my hands. Deranged is the closest word I can use to describe seeing a manifestation of personal guilt. I thought I was losing my mind, but then He said two powerful and to and to the point things to me.

The first thing He said was simply “Enough”. The blood on my hands vanished, but that only added to my confusion I really thought I was losing it then. Then He said “I have things for you to do”. It was not an option to consider, it was a command. One I could only respond to with a meek “Okay”. From then on, I just sat in silence pondering what I had just experienced and wondering if I really was just crazy.

What does God’s voice sound like? Well, I can’t tell you that. He didn’t speak to me with an audible voice. The words were impressed into my heart. He spoke to the part of me that sincerely believed those moments that I was a good person subjected to a bad world. His words showed me my lack of righteousness, and that’s how I knew it was Him.

He dispelled the illusion I was in and showed me my true self. Shortly after that, He showed me that He was working in me through other people. Someone I hardly knew told me I was different. I had only met this person one other time a year prior, when I was in the midst of my downward spiral. The second time we met the change in me was brought up and I walked away from that encounter realizing that I indeed did feel different.

The despair, anger, paranoia, and everything else was gone. I didn’t feel a gaping hole in my soul begging to be fed with a hedonistic lifestyle anymore. I was healed emotionally, spiritually, and mentally without even being consciously aware of it. He spoke to me and showed His power by changing the things I found pleasure in. The bottles in my cabinets turned into books on my shelf. It’s been a gradual process of change since then.

So, if you ever wonder why I’m so sure, it’s not because of the moral argument, uniformity in nature, the beauty of creation, love, human rights, or anything else a godless worldview has nothing to show a basis for. It’s because He chose to speak to me. All those other things just bolster my personal experience with Him from that night.

At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me,a is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” – John 10:22-30