Tag Archives: Style

Of Change and Health

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Awake, harp and lyre!
    I will awaken the dawn.

Psalm 108:2 (NIV)

Do you ever have random conversations that stick in your memory? I was on a trip with a colleague. While aware that we are each followers of Jesus, we didn’t talk about spiritual things very often. My colleague comes from a very conservative, almost fundamentalist viewpoint on things and he surprised me by wanting to ask my opinion about the weekly worship among the institutional church where he was a member.

It happened that my colleagues tribe had recently made the switch from a very traditional worship experience that involved singing traditional hymns, many of them having been in existence for hundreds of years. The church was migrating to using songs of the present-day genre. He was clearly struggling with this.

I have shared many times that I have been a spiritual wayfarer who has experienced and participated in a rich diversity of spiritual traditions. I have been in the emotionally rockin’ pentecostal tradition, the corporate silence of the Quaker Meeting House, the high-church liturgy of Roman Catholic church, the call-and-response of the black church, the intellectual approach of mainline institutions, the simplicity and sincerity of rural worship in a developing country, and the down-home family environment of a “house church.” My attitude has never been to ask “Which is right?” In fact, I’ve never really worried about asking “Which is right for me?” I’ve always tried to be fully present where I have been been led and ask myself “What good can I gain from this experience?”

I am aware, however, that my colleague has a more black-and-white view of both faith and life. The change in music genres within his local gathering had him rattled.

Colleague: “I’m struggling with these ‘seven-eleven’ songs. It’s the same seven lines sung eleven times.”

Me: “You mean like Psalm 117 that only has two lines which were likely repeated in worship?”

Colleague: “It’s just so repetitive. Singing the same thing over and over.”

Me: “You mean like Psalm 136 that repeats ‘His love endures forever’ twenty-six times?”

Colleague: “It’s not right. They take little pieces of a great hymn and mess it up by changing it. It was meant to be sung in its entirety!”

As this point, I could have pointed my colleague to today’s chapter, Psalm 108, because the entire thing is simply a cut-and-paste mash-up of Psalm 57:7-11 and Psalm 60:5-12. In fact, there are multiple examples both in the Psalms and in the writings of the ancient prophets when entire sections would be cut-and-pasted into an updated work. There are also examples of this in other ancient Mesopotamian cultures. It was quite common.

I don’t really know how the conversation landed with my colleague. I could tell that he was disappointed (maybe even a little frustrated) that I didn’t agree with him and provide him an affirmation of his opinions. He never brought it up again.

In my life, I have found change to be really difficult for people in almost any circle of life. When you mix in both change and religious tradition it can take on an added layer of emotion. Suddenly the change gets escalated to a level of religious orthodoxy. Sides are taken. The discussion escalates to arguments. Then comes entrenchment. Very often the next step is the severing of relationships. Groups split.

Along my spiritual journey, I have always assumed that change is a natural part of creation. Most things in life cycle in one way or another. What goes around comes around. Styles come back around and get freshened up. Religious traditions and practices that were once abandoned as “old and outdated” come back in vogue to bless a new generation of Jesus’ followers.

So it is that as I watch the changes that constantly happen around me on multiple levels, I try to keep my emotional reactions in check. Instead of digging in my heels and demanding that my love of the perfectly acceptable way of doing things is understood, I try to divert my energy to asking “What good might be gained from this change?”

In the quiet this morning, I find myself reminded of a mantra that I was introduced to by my friend. It made its way around the internet and I am unsure of the source. I once used it in a message, but I don’t know that I’ve ever referenced it in one of my chapter-a-day posts. It’s always stuck with me:

Healthy things grow.
Growing things change.
Change challenges me.
Challenges force me to trust God.
Trust leads to obedience.
Obedience makes me healthy.
Healthy things grow.
..

Want to Read More?

Click on the image, or click here, to be taken to a simple, visual index of all the posts in this series from the book of Psalms.

There is also a list of recent chapter-a-day series indexed by book.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

Wise and Persuasive Words

My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.
1 Corinthians 2:4-5 (NIV)

Over the past couple of years our local gathering of Jesus followers has been engaged in an experiment of sorts that, in my experience, is rather unique. The weekly worship and message is not centered around a specific teacher or leader. Rather, a team of 10-15 individuals who are developing their gifts as communicators of God’s Message take turns. I have been asked to take on an informal role as mentor and acts as an anchor for the team.

There are some who felt this experiment would be an utter failure. The norm in our culture is to find people congregating around an individual leader with exceptional communication skills. Will people consistently gather to hear a broad spectrum of teachers who are diverse in their style, experience, and knowledge? The answer appears to be “yes.”

One of the things that I have been observing as I listen and interact with each of the teaching team members is that they each bring their own unique personality and style to their delivery. I want each of them to discover and develop the voice that God gave them. At the same time, there are simple rules and principles of communication from which we can all learn and develop our skills as communicators. I’m learning that there is wisdom required in knowing the difference.

One of the underlying themes that Paul is communicating in his letter to the followers of Jesus in Corinth is predicated on a similar situation that was creating conflict. Apollos was a dynamic speaker in that day who travelled and taught about Jesus. The believers in Corinth had begun to split into factions behind their favorite teachers. Paul addressed this in yesterday’s chapter:

One of you says, “I follow Paul”;another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”

Now, Paul continues to address the situation. Compared to Apollos (and perhaps Peter [Cephas] too), Paul knew that he was not a dynamic teacher. There is a story in the book of Acts in which a young man fell asleep during Paul’s teaching and fell out of a second floor window to his death. I have to believe that an experience like that would stick with you as a teacher.

To the people of Corinth, therefore, he is makes it clear that the power of the teaching is not in the skills of the orator, but in Holy Spirit’s presence. A skilled communicator can affect the thoughts and emotions of the masses, but spiritual impact of an eternal nature happens only through the work of Holy Spirit.

The truth of the matter is that different individuals have different styles, personalities, and communication skills. Moses was not a great communicator on a human level, but God used him to great effect. Paul seems to be placing himself in a similar camp. Those who teach should always seek to improve the quality of their communication skills, while acknowledging that the greatest of communicators is dependent on the power and work of Holy Spirit for our words to have spiritual potency or eternal value.

Today, I’m thinking about a message I have to deliver among our gathering of believers this coming Sunday about the unmanageable power of Jesus. As always, I’m diligently trying to prepare to communicate the Message well. I am reminded this morning that my preparations are not complete without acknowledging my utter need of, and dependence on, Holy Spirit.

 

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Good Doctor Luke

Mattias Stom's depiction of Mark (distracted and looking at us - he probably already finished his 16 chapter cliff notes version on Jesus' life) and Luke (still hard at work with his research).
Mattihas Stom’s depiction of Mark (distracted and looking at us – he probably already finished his 16 chapter cliff notes version on Jesus’ life) and Luke (still hard at work with his research).

With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus….
Luke 1:3 (NIV)

This morning I was up early and spent some time hyperlinking all of the chapters of 1 Chronicles, which we just finished yesterday, into the Chapter-a-Day Index. As I was doing this mundane task I began to think about all of these posts I’ve written day-by-day for over eight years. My brain, still fogged by sleep, had a silly thought: “If I was running for President [talk about a nightmare for all of us], and both the press and public started pouring over my blog to find out more about me, what would they conclude about me based on what I’ve written?”

I then opened to the Luke’s biography of Jesus to start on this morning’s chapter and read Luke’s introduction to Theophilus, the person to whom Luke addressed his account of Jesus’ life. Having just been thinking about what your writing reveals about the person, I realized how much Dr. Luke [traditional holds that he was a physician] revealed about himself in his introduction.

  • He is methodical, making sure that his “orderly” account was properly introduced. There’s a formality to Luke’s style and structure.
  • He notes that his account is the result of “careful investigation,” and I could imagine the brain of a scientist at work.
  • He had researched everything “from the beginning.” The good doctor was thorough as well as methodical.

As I’ve poured over the “big four” biographies of Jesus countless times, I’ve come to appreciate particular things that are unique to each. The thing that I quickly observed in reading Dr. Luke’s investigative report, and which I have come to greatly appreciate over the years, is that it contains small details and entire episodes in the story of the life of Jesus that aren’t found in the accounts of Matthew, Mark, and John. A physician diagnosing the events he’d witnessed, you can feel Luke’s brain systematically questioning, researching, cataloging, and filing all of the facts so as to lay them out to Theophilus in the most clear and logical manner. These details and episodes provide incredible color and context to the story.

This morning, I am thankful for context and color. I’m thankful for diverse peoples and personalities whom God created to bring that color and context to both His-story and to each of our own stories. I’m thankful for Dr. Luke, whose physician’s brain does not work like mine (I think I’m more like John), and his meticulous investigation which I have enjoyed and from which I have greatly benefitted.

Continuous Personal Worship

Thai SunsetEach of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying:
“‘Holy, holy, holy 
is the Lord God Almighty,’
who was, and is, and is to come.”
Revelation 4:8 (NIV)

I have been in many different churches over the years representing a wide breadth of Christian denominations. From holy rolling Pentecostal healing services to quiet Quaker meetings to the pomp and ritual of the Roman Catholic mass, I have experienced worship in many different forms. I can’t say one was better than another any more than a great Italian meal is better than a great Midwestern barbecue. They each bring something different to the experience that satiates hunger with its own taste and flair. I can honestly say that I have appreciated how each variety of worship style satiates peoples hunger to worship God with its own unique taste and flair.

In today’s chapter, John has a vision and finds himself ushered into the throne room of heaven. This is not the first time this has happened in God’s Message. The prophet Isaiah described a similar experience (Isaiah 6) hundreds of years before John. In each description, there is “day and night” worship that continually acknowledges God being ‘holy’ (Merriam-Websterexalted or worthy of complete devotion as one perfect in goodness and righteousness). When Isaiah heard the angelic beings they acknowledged that “the whole earth is full of his glory.” The four creatures John saw poetically acknowledged God’s timelessness as one who “was, is, and is to come.” The 24 elders at the end of today’s chapter worship God for being the creator of all things and giver of life.

In this chapter-a-day journey through God’s Message we have run across few descriptions of heaven. The common denominator in those we have run across is worship in the form of continuous verbal acknowledgement of God. Today, I am thinking about my own personal act of worship, which isn’t confined to an hour in church on Sunday morning. I have found personal worship to be the continuous awareness and acknowledgement of God in my breathing, working, eating, drinking, re-creating, resting, relating, loving, and living. How that manifests itself varies like the rituals of the Quakers and Catholics and I can’t say that I think it matters all that much. I have found that the important thing about personal worship is not what it looks like but that it happens.

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“There are No Wrong Notes.”

Jazz musician Miles Davis.
Jazz musician Miles Davis. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Shout to the Lord, all the earth;
    break out in praise and sing for joy!
 Sing your praise to the Lord with the harp,
    with the harp and melodious song,
with trumpets and the sound of the ram’s horn.
    Make a joyful symphony before the Lord, the King!
Psalm 98:4-6 (NLT)

I’ve experienced a lot of different styles of worship throughout my journey. I grew up as kid growing up in a liturgical Methodist church. I dressed up in choir robes and entered the sanctuary in a long processional with the pastor and the adult choir. I sang choral music accompanied by a pipe organ or piano. The evangelical church I went to after that had slick, professional, popular sounding music. My Quaker friends were a quiet group, allowing plenty of silence to “center” ourselves. Whenever I get to attend a Catholic mass I’m totally blown away by the metaphorical depth and meaning of the ritual. The Presbyterians I worshiped with reminded me of my childhood experiences in a good way. I’ve attended worship services with my Pentecostal friends that, in comparison, felt like a three ring circus.

When reading the psalms you can never completely divorce yourself from the fact that this is a volume of lyrics meant for ancient worship. Along the journey I’m constantly running into people caught up in what is “right” or “wrong” about the way this group or that group expresses themselves in worship. Maybe I’m in the minority, but I’m reminded this morning of a quote by the great jazz trumpeter, Miles Davis: “There are no wrong notes.”

My many and varied experiences have taught me that there’s benefit to the smorgasbord of worship styles you’ll encounter across the panacea of churches and groups. You may prefer this or that from the options laid out for you, but taking a bite from something you’ve never had before just might surprise you in a good way.

As I read the above lyric this morning I thought of all of my experiences in churches where “worship” was synonymous with words like: quiet, silent, and respectful. Dude, if you’re following the prescription for worship laid out in Psalm 98 it is NOT going to be quiet and peaceful. Shouting, trumpets and a ram’s horn?

Seriously. It’s gonna get loud. I’m just saying.