Tag Archives: Worship

“Get Me a Musician”

[The prophet, Elisha, said,] “…get me a musician.” And then, while the musician was playing, the power of the Lord came on him.
2 Kings 3:15 (NRSVCE)

I mentioned in my post the other day that while we’re at the lake Wendy and I are limited in our television viewing choices to the collection of DVDs we have there. So it was that last week I pulled out that oldie, but goodie of the cinema: Die Hard. The movie played in the background as Wendy and I sat at the dining room table with our laptops going about our work.

In case you never caught it, the underlying musical score for Die Hard is one endless string of creative variations on what most Americans know as the hymn Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee. The iconic melody of that familiar hymn comes from the final movement of Beethoven’s ninth and final symphony. As I sat at the dining room table, tapping away on my keyboard, the melody suddenly and unexpectedly took me to another moment, in another place.

London. 2009. The Royal Philharmonic. It was our first night in London and Wendy and I had tickets to hear both Mozart’s and Beethoven’s final symphonies in one program. Wendy’s favorite was Mozart, but mine was Beethoven. There is a moment in Beethoven’s ninth when the music suddenly stops and a lone voice begins to sing. I will never forget the moment I heard that voice. I just began to cry as I listened. A chorus of voices joins the orchestra and the music continues to build to one of the most amazing and moving musical climaxes ever. What most people don’t realize is that Beethoven was completely deaf when he wrote his final symphony. He never heard a note of it with his ears. He only heard it in his spirit. Amazing.

There is something deeply spiritual about the language of music, and I have learned over time that music is a language all its own. It has a special place in creation. Music is an integral part of heaven in the glimpses provided in God’s Message and the theme of music is woven throughout the Great Story.

In today’s chapter the prophet Elisha calls for a musician. When the music begins to play the power of God comes upon him. The language of music was the conduit of God’s Spirit. I get that. The language of music is a spiritual language (both for spiritual light and spiritual darkness, btw). Music has the power to reach deep inside to touch hidden places inside us. Music has the power of inspiration, conviction, revelation, exhortation, and even transportation.

My body last week was sitting at a dining room table in central Missouri. The melody of Beethoven’s ninth playing beneath Bruce Willis’ machine gun suddenly and unexpectedly transported my spirit, in that moment, to the Royal Orchestra Hall in London. My eyes began to mist over. Physicists tells us that all of time is contained in each moment. Perhaps music is a gateway.

This morning I’m thinking about this powerful medium we call music. I’m mulling over the incredible breadth of music that has spoken to me, moved me, and inspired me over the years. Beethoven to Berlioz to Bach, Miles Davis to Bob Dylan to Yo-Yo Ma, Gospel choirs to bluegrass banjos to steel drums and a Reggae beat. I’ve come to accept that I will never know (in this life journey) fluency in the language of music that I desire. I still can experience its power in ways human beings throughout the millennia of history couldn’t even imagine. I literally have access to the entire catalog of human music in the palm of my hand.

“…get me a musician.”

Devoted to a Bread Maker

Their land is filled with silver and gold,
    and there is no end to their treasures;
their land is filled with horses,
    and there is no end to their chariots.
Their land is filled with idols;
    they bow down to the work of their hands,
    to what their own fingers have made.
Isaiah 2:7-8 (NRSV)

Last night Wendy and I were on the couch watching the Cubs game when we were surprised by the doorbell. There was a small group of high school youth from one of our area churches who were on a “bigger or better” scavenger hunt. They had with them a stuffed snowman they had procured from a previous, unsuspecting neighbor.  “Do you have anything that’s bigger or better than this that you’d trade for it?” the young people asked.

Our basement storage room (which is quite sizable) is filled with things we are not using and may not even remember we have. So is the garage attic, and the back of the garage. The answer to the young people’s question should really be: “Yes! How many options would you like us to give you among the infinite number of boxes, totes an bins full of things we own but don’t use?”

Then, as Wendy scoured the basement storage and I scoured the garage, the more nagging question became a reality. “What thing, of all this junk I don’t use and forget I even own, am I willing to part with?” It is so intriguing to find how much value we place, not on the object itself, but on the possession of it.

We offered the excited group of young people an old bread maker I found sitting in the garage, and Wendy put our new stuffed snowman with our stack of Christmas decorations. Everyone enjoyed a laugh and we wished the young people well on their scavenger hunt. I wonder what they ended up with.

I thought about last night’s experience as I listened to the prophet Isaiah (I listened to this morning’s chapter being read as I returned from a breakfast appointment this morning) describe the neighboring nations. He described their wealth, their riches and their possessions. They made cast idols and then bowed down “to the work of their hands.”

If find that we in 21st century western culture are quick to be dismissive at the thought of idolatry as described by the ancient prophets. People bowing down to a golden calf or a statue of some animal seems so silly. But, I’m not sure I’m really willing to see the point. What is “worship” but the act of being devoted to something? And what is “devotion” but the giving of time, attention and energy to something?

“…they bow down to the work of their hands.”

How much time, energy ad attention do I devote to the acquisition, maintenance, upkeep, renovation, and storage of “the work of our hands?” Perhaps I am devoted to things made by human hands. Perhaps what was called “idolatry” in 700 B.C., I simply call “success” in a consumerist culture.

This morning I am rolling my own eyes at myself, and the discomfort I feel with the questions I’m asking myself. I don’t like asking myself, “Am I willing to part with this old bread maker sitting in my garage which hasn’t been used in years?” and acknowledging that there’s a small voice in my soul that balks at giving it up. At the same time, I am feeling really good about giving it up and having it out of my garage. Perhaps it’s a mustard seed of change.

Lord, have mercy on this poor soul that bows down to things made with hands.

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Perpetual Embers

A perpetual fire shall be kept burning on the altar; it shall not go out.
Leviticus 6:13 (NRSV)

My family vacationed at the same place every year. Camp Idlewood on Rainy Lake in Minnesota was where we spent two weeks in early August every summer. There was a campfire pit just outside the boathouse and a fire was lit every night as families gathered around to swap stories, sing songs, and enjoy each other’s company.

As childhood gave way to the tween and teen years, we were allowed to stay later and later at the campfire. Eventually the parental unit would head to bed and we were allowed to hang out at the campfire until the wee hours of the night. Occasionally the wee hours gave way to dawn and we would still be there huddled around the fire pit.

I remember those nights watching the fire evolve from blazing bonfire to glowing embers. Still, we would stoke it and tend it and keep it going through the watches of the night as conversations continued, friendships were forged, and camp romances occasionally were sparked to life and then quickly went out.

I thought about that campfire as I read this morning of the ancient sacrificial fires prescribed by God through Moses. They kept going. Wood was added. The embers were stoked. The spiritual conversation and relationship continued around the fire.

This morning I’m reminded that my worship, my sacrifice, and my offering to God is not a compartmentalized act confined to a Sunday morning. It is a campfire in my spirit which does not go out. Every day, every stretch of the journey it blazes, it ebbs, and I tend to it;  I stoke the embers into flame again and again. God and me perpetually around the fire through the watches of the night, into the wee hours, and on to the dawn.

A Radical Shift in Paradigm

“We will not neglect the house of our God.”
Nehemiah 10:39 (NIV)

Over my journey I’ve worshipped in many different places. Growing up, there was a lot more emphasis that people placed on the church building itself. I still remember the Methodist church where I grew up. The area of that altar in the sanctuary was considered hallowed ground along with the “eternal light” that hung above it (which was a light bulb I’m quite sure needed to be replaced on occasion).

As I grew in my understanding as a follower of Jesus, I began to recognize that the special attachment Christians placed on their particular house of worship fell into two camps. The first camp were those who considered their local church building to be some kind of holy place that was, itself, sacred because it was a church. The other camp considered their local church special because the community of believers had built it together. It was communal space for worship and they wanted to take care of it.

In the days of Nehemiah, the temple where they worshipped was a holy place. It had been designated such by God when He gave the plans to Moses and called for its eventual construction. When Jesus came, however, the paradigm changed radically. Jesus made it clear that the times they were a changing. When confronted by the Samaritan woman at the well about where you should worship, Jesus replied, “But the time is coming—it has, in fact, come—when what you’re called will not matter and where you go to worship will not matter.”

With the pouring out of Holy Spirit into the hearts of every believer, our bodies themselves became the temple. Our worship center became wherever we happen to be at any given moment. The focus shifted from bricks and mortar to flesh and blood. We may appreciate and tend to our local church building because we want to be good stewards of the communal worship space, but the church building is not hallowed in and of itself. It’s when I and my fellow believers bring Holy Spirit in with me to worship that makes it a worship center.

Today I’m thinking once again about my body being a temple of Holy Spirit, a vessel in which God dwells. It lends a more intimate meaning to the commitment made by the folks in Nehemiah’s day: “I will not neglect the house of God.”

Guess I’m working out today.

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Diversity, Unity, Liberty…Love

But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.
1 Corinthians 14:40 (NIV)

Along my journey I have attended worship gatherings across a diverse spectrum of Jesus’ followers. I’ve worshipped at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin and at small rural churches in the middle of Iowa cornfields. I’ve participated in worship at raucous Pentecostal meetings and in the relative silence of a Quaker Meeting House. I’ve worshipped with fellow believers in the African American community, in the Arab Israeli community, among the American country club set, among native Americans on their reservation, with homeless in urban shelters, in suburban mega-churches, and among small groups of believers meeting in their homes. I’ve worshipped with children at camp, the elderly in nursing homes, and some version of almost any Christian denomination you can name. As I recall all of these memories, I am a bit amazed at the veritable plethora of worship experiences I’ve had with other followers of Jesus across my lifetime.

I have always been what traditional believers would regard as a “non-denominationalist.” I choose to love and fellowship with any who follow Jesus, no matter what brand of Christianity they hold onto. I have long followed the wisdom of St. Augustine who taught: “In the essentials: unity. In the non-essentials: liberty. In all things: charity.”

In today’s chapter, Paul is addressing a fledgling group of believers at the very beginning of the Christian faith. There were no long standing traditions. There were no well-established rules. Organizational structure is loose, at-best. Worship was a bit of a free-for-all. To this chaos, Paul attempts to bring some sense of order. After laying out his basic thoughts on structure, he sums it all up with: “everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.”

This morning I am thankful for the wide range of experiences I’ve had with followers of Jesus in all sorts of cultures, sub-cultures, social strata, and faith traditions. I’ve appreciated every one of those worship experiences in one way or another. I may have disagreed (in some cases, quite strongly) with some non-essential doctrines of the faith, but I still loved hanging out to share laughter, conversation, and stories over a meal with them. And, I respect our differences. Diversity can teach all parties in relationship an increased clarity of self, a greater perspective of others, and an expansion of love.

Conflict and the Narrative

Indeed, an hour is coming when those who kill you will think that by doing so they are offering worship to God.
John 16:2b (NRSV)

Stories are boring if there is no conflict.

In 8th grade, Mrs. McLaren taught me that conflict in stories and literature can, in general, be broken down into a handful of categories:

Person vs. Self (think A Beautiful Mind)
Person vs. Person (think Kramer vs. Kramer)
Person vs. Nature (think Tom Hanks in Castaway)
Person vs. God/fate (think Michael Corleone in The Godfather)
Person vs. Supernatural (think of any ghost story)
Person vs. Technology (think The Matrix)
Person vs. Society (think Fahrenheit 451)

The epic stories, whatever mix of narrative they employ, are stories of good versus evil. Good stories are a reflection of the Great Story, and I have encountered many people along my journey who seem to forget that even the Jesus story is a story of good versus evil. Jesus regularly came in conflict with demonic power. He spoke clearly of the enemy who was arranging circumstances that would lead to His death. In todays chapter, Jesus’ even told His followers to expect that others will try to kill them and think they are worshipping God.

The tactics of evil do not change much over time. I have come to believe that we, as human beings, are lemmings by our sinful nature. As such, our enemy uses common tactics across generations. Despite our desire to think ourselves progressive and enlightened, we have, I fear, learned very little from history. Getting people to commit deathly acts as “worship” of God is evil 101. In Jesus’ day the Jews were trying to kill Jesus and His followers thinking they were doing God a favor. Later the Christians would kill the Jews and muslims thinking they were doing God a favor. Today, ISIS and their ilk are killing Jews, Christians, and any who refuse to accept Allah.

How fascinating to think that Jews, Christians, and Muslims worship the same God of Abraham. What goes around, comes around.

[sigh]

Today, I am reminded that in each chapter of my personal narrative I may encounter different types of conflict from conflict with others, to conflict with myself, conflict with fate, conflict with society, et al. As I live out my role in the Great Story, I must not forget that this is a story of good versus evil. I do not want to be caught unaware, but rather desire to be ever mindful of how my words and actions are contributing to the grand narrative. In my story, as it dovetails into the Great Story, I want to be an agent of Love, Life, Light and redemption.

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Following and Fear

Despite their fear of the peoples around them, they built the altar on its foundation and sacrificed burnt offerings on it to the Lord, both the morning and evening sacrifices.
Ezra 3:3 (NIV)

Last night was family pizza and movie night. Taylor invited her friend Curtis over to join Suzanna, Wendy and me. Wendy made homemade pizza and breadsticks as we all gathered around the island in the kitchen to share in a glass of wine and conversation.

In the midst of the conversation Taylor recounted a significant point in her life as a teenager in which she made a conscious decision that she was going to follow Jesus. Hanging out with a couple of her best friends shortly thereafter, she explained to them her decision. She shared with them that she needed to start making some different life choices. Things that had been  producing spiritual death in her needed to pass away. She needed to choose into things that would be life giving.

As she spoke, it brought back similar memories for me. After I became a follower a Jesus, when I was still a very young man, there was a period of time in which my new found faith created an awkward fear in me. Those who knew me as one thing, were now going to experience me as another. Old things were passing away in me. New things were emerging. And, while I still loved my friends very much, I knew that I needed to change. Whenever Jesus called someone to follow, there was a requisite of leaving things behind and striking out on a path toward new things.

Perhaps it was Taylor’s story and my memories that resonated as I read this morning of the Hebrew exiles returning to their homes. The temple had been in ruins for years, so long that those living near could scarcely remember it being a center of worship. Now, a new thing was happening. Life was returning to a place of death. The worship of God was beginning once more and with it came that awkward fear of how their neighbors would react. And yet, they continued to obediently follow the plan.

I’ve learned along life’s journey that following Jesus sometimes means obediently following where He leads, despite my fears or my nagging concern about what others might think. On a few occasions, it has meant following Jesus down paths He was leading me despite even my fellow believers thinking me cracked and accusing me of going the wrong way.

Choosing Life requires making choices and moving my life in directions where increasing measures of Life will be found. This necessitates leaving behind parts of my life, and even people in my life, who are sucking the Life out of me. I do this not because I judge these other people as bad or evil. In fact, I have tremendous amounts of love for them. I do this because, in the moment, I am called to pursue Life. In doing so I ensure that I may someday have an over flowing abundance of Life; Life I might someday have a chance to share with those same loved ones from whom I needed to distance myself for a time.

photo : redvers via flickr