Come, meet with the King

I have been asked at times how I choose songs for Sunday morning worship. Part of the answer is a pattern I often use. I think of it as inviting people to come closer to the king, one step at a time.

Put aside our modern, Western culture for a moment. Imagine a city where the king resides.

1. Entering the gates:

Now and then, the king may host a celebration for his people. Perhaps he has returned from battle, victorious. Perhaps he negotiated peace or trade. Perhaps it’s his birthday. Whatever. The king says it’s time to party, so his servants spread the word: party at the palace! The gates are open for all the city to come into the grounds, and the king is providing BBQ and plenty of drink. There’s music and dancing. People chant; people sing; people cheer for their king! There’s dancing. Everyone is welcome.

While I haven’t seen this with a king’s palace, I have had the experience of running through a 3rd world rural village, calling out “Come! Come! Come to the celebration!” – pausing briefly where we saw anyone in their doorway, whom we could invite.

It’s easy to invite people to a celebration.

2. Entering the courts:

In court, people can interact with the king personally though publicly. People may come to seek justice (“judge between me and my neighbour”), to show appreciation, to bring a gift, to pledge loyalty. Some people may come just to hear the king’s wisdom and judgements and to encourage those who approach the throne. There is order and respect and reverence. There is personal interaction with the king, in the presence of his people.

3. In the private rooms:

The king will at times talk with people privately. Perhaps with his most trusted staff who can be given special assignments. Perhaps there’s a matter that requires sensitivity. Perhaps he just wants to encourage a friend or speak lovingly to his family. This is the place where the king’s character is more clearly revealed, where his heart is known.

And so, in worship…

People are in all different places, states of mind, but it’s easy to invite them to a celebration. Perhaps they’re distracted, perhaps flustered, perhaps stressed by the effort of getting their children ready and out the door. Celebratory music is exciting, inviting, attention-getting. It causes people to want to dance, or at least move. We celebrate the King, telling each other “He is great, and good”, or perhaps raising our voices together in praise.

Having entered the gates and joined the celebration, it’s not so hard to invite people to enter the King’s court, to hear people speaking personally with the King, and to do likewise. “My king, you are good, and I honour you.”

And having done that, if people have turned their attention more fully to the King, his character, his goodness, and recognised his presence… perhaps they can stay in awareness of his presence… perhaps they can pause to hear him speak… perhaps they can speak more freely and personally to their God…

With God’s omnipresence, and the Spirit dwelling within each of us, a whole room full of people can interact personally with their creator – at the same time. They might not, but they can.

Is it necessary?

“The kingdom of God is at hand”. God is not far away. At a moment’s mindfulness, we can address our Lord directly. In a personal quiet time, or in a small group, it is more likely that people have come ready to connect with the King, and will do so. We may “come boldly before the throne of grace”, and this doesn’t require a program, a liturgy, or a worship band.

Further, the children of a king actually live in his home.

I think the larger the gathering, and the more diverse its people, the more value there is in starting with a celebration. Celebration is good! Celebration seems to happen more naturally with a big crowd, and big music. Even if someone has regular close proximity to their king, it might be presumptuous and self-important for that person to not join in the public celebrations, to not join others who aren’t so close and familiar and yet are subjects of the same king.

Sometimes it’s insensitive or unhelpful to imply everyone should party – someone might be mourning. That said, sometimes people are in need of a nudge to break out of a rut, and just need a bit of help refocusing.

But remember…

This is not a rule for “how it should be, always”. It’s useful for encouraging people to draw nearer to God. There are other patterns that can be helpful, or more appropriate on different days. Any pattern risks people becoming dependent on a worship leader and band to “make it happen”, just as weekly sermons risk people relying on the preacher to find and know God for them. I think these things have value, but should certainly not be the sum total expression of Christianity.

But let us not put a stumbling block before people. If you’re there to lead, then lead.

Notes:

Some of this thinking is inspired by Tommy Tenney’s book Finding Favour with the King, which is a commentary on the context of Hadassah – his novelisation of the biblical book of Esther.

Psalms, Hymns, and…

The Bible contains a book of psalms. It also contains several mentions of God’s people singing hymns. Here are two similar endorsements to sing:

Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.

(Colossians 3:16, NIV)

… be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father…

(Ephesians 5:18-19, NIV)

I want to dig a little into a few words. Here’s a bit of Greek from Ephesians 5:19

… psalmois kai hymnois kai odais pneumatikais …

Now, I’m not a scholar of New Testament Greek. I know just a little. A brief search will show there’s some debate on the meanings of each of these words. Here’s my 2c worth.

Hymns

A hymn is a “song of praise”, and usually religious. Matthew and Mark record Jesus’ disciples singing a hymn. A number of text fragments within the epistles are considered to be parts of hymns sung by the believers, making examples of using songs for teaching and remembering.

One synonym for “hymn” is “anthem”, and I find that helpful. An anthem belongs to a people group: it speaks of something they agree on and value together. Something solid. Something around which the community forms and finds strength. Consider the gusto with which anthems are sung by people of some nations, or some sporting teams (however frivolous their subject). The focus for Christians is on God and his attributes, in a fairly objective sense. I’d suggest that a good hymn should not need a band nor a worship leader, but simply one person to start singing, and the rest of the community can and will directly join in.

Psalms

Without digging much into the word itself, we can consider the bible contains 150 of them. Some psalms are prefixed with instructions regarding the tune, instruments to use, or other notes like “for the director of music”.

The psalms are not a clear explanation of good theology. Rather, they demonstrate people relating to God, and often in subjective terms. These songs have emotion and opinion. I’d say they’re more subjective, compared to hymns. Some are celebratory, some sorrowful, some a desperate cry for help.

People who object to “I / me” songs in the church might be surprised at the Bible:

Psalm 3:1 “O Lord, I have so many enemies…”

Psalm 4:1 “Answer me when I call…”

Psalm 5:1 “O Lord, hear me as I pray…”

Psalm 6:1 “O Lord, don’t rebuke me…”

Psalm 7:1 “I come to you for protection… Save me…”

Psalm 9:1 “I will praise you…”

Psalm 10:1 “O Lord, why do you stand so far away? Why do you hide when I am in trouble?”

… and many more.

That said, many psalms start with self-expression of feeling or situation, then move to recognise God’s character, and then perhaps precipitate a different response.

So what do we do with subjective, touchy-feely songs, if we don’t feel the same way?

  • We can sympathise. “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:5)
  • We can learn the acceptability of expression, and how that expression unfolded, for use when we do feel that way
  • We can remember past situations and God’s faithfulness
  • We can discover that sometimes we actually do have a similar experience or perspective, if we dare dig into it

Odais pneumatikais

Let’s start with “Ode”, which is a lyric poem or song. It may imply being heartfelt, a tribute, in praise or adoration. Odes are often defined as a little irregular in metre (rhythm). I don’t know if that was the case 2000 years ago, but there may be something in that.

Pneuma is air, or wind, or breath, or spirit. Applying to odes, we might understand this phrase to be “God-breathed tributes”, “Songs of/by the Holy Spirit”, or “Spiritual songs”. Some suggest that’s a reference to songs that were earlier written under God’s inspiration or direction, as per Old Testament prophecies and, for that matter, the whole bible. Some say it’s “singing in the spirit” (or The Spirit).

Ode, psalm and hymn are all old terms, apparently borrowed from Greek translators of the Old Testament; we have no clear definition from that time. However you interpret them, there’s another important word I want to point out, which is very clear.

AND…

It’s the word “kai”, meaning “and”. Our exhortation is to sing psalms and hymns and odes of the Spirit. There’s a diversity in this instruction. I think any singular, narrow definition of “appropriate church music” would contradict this verse. We don’t have a prescription for how much time and attention to give each kind of song, nor where and when each is best to be sung; we serve the God of grace, not legalism.

Further…

I’ve had the above terms floating in my consciousness for a while, but let’s look at what comes before and after.

Colossians 3:16 speaks of teaching and admonishing. Ephesians 5:19 says “speaking to yourselves” (apparently collectively, ie to one another) “in psalms and hymns and odes [that are] pneumatikois, singing and psalming in your heart to the Lord”.

ᾄδοντες καὶ ψάλλοντες ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ ὑμῶν τῷ Κυρίῳ

The verb psallontes most literally means to pluck strings, as you would when playing a harp or lyre. Kardia is the heart. It’s mostly presumed that psallontes was, or should be translated as, a general term for making music. Regardless, “making music in the heart of you” suggests causing your heart to resonate, in response to an action or stimulus, engaging with and becoming part of a song. Something should strike a chord within you. Just pause and let that thought reverberate for a moment.

We use words to describe concepts, to figuratively paint a picture, to convey things that are not simply words themselves. If that were not so, we should arguably be worshipping in an ancient dialect of Aramaic. As much as music can help paint that picture, I’d call it helpful.

Final thoughts

  • Singing to teach and remember good theology is valid
  • Artistic expression in worship is valid
  • Artistic expression may convey God’s attributes, and/or his involvement in this world, in a way that helps people engage
  • God doesn’t require that worshippers be in large groups with a sophisticated band and capable song-leader. To suggest otherwise would be to exclude most of the world’s population, especially in developing nations. Worshippers need not be “on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem”, nor any other large gathering or special place.

Credits

My thoughts on this topic began with Robert Holmes’s “Introduction to Psalming” audio teaching series.

A few commentaries can be found at https://biblehub.com/commentaries/ephesians/5-19.htm

Grateful worship leader

Set #11

I’m one of a few people rostered to lead worship in our church. A few weeks ago, it was my turn.

It was different. Some noticed that I used 6 songs instead of the usual 5. But that’s not it.

I have a rough pattern that I usually follow, not that it’s a formula or rule, but there are reasons behind it. That week, I changed the pattern. The tempo and mood of the songs dropped very rapidly, and built up from there. It seemed to fit the bible reading that the pastor had chosen for that week. It seemed to fit the circumstances of a few people I know and love. It also reflected how I was feeling personally, with some challenges and tough decisions, both at work and in other aspects of life, and where I needed to set my thoughts.

Anyway, it was different. I think it was appropriate. Maybe no-one noticed, but the point wasn’t to be noticed. I just hoped it was helpful.

Guitar & drumsAfterward I felt particularly appreciative toward the worship team that day: the backing singer, who willingly joined us, and carried the melody at times; the bassist and the drummer, who not only played well but have become quite good at hearing where the music and the worship are going, and working together. I don’t think anyone knew I had chosen a path that wasn’t easy or comfortable, but they came with me. I’m grateful.


Set #12

Last week was my turn again. The pastor’s theme for the week was “joy” so he specifically requested there be joyful songs.  I wasn’t entirely sure about my choice, felt no particular inspiriation in preparing, and made a number of changes during practise on what seemed to work and what would flow reasonably.

A couple of times during the worship, I sensed a nudge from the Spirit to change from the standard arrangement / order of verses, choruses, repeats etc. The second time I actually followed through. Then came a nudge to stop singing and say something. Sometimes I plan to say something during or between songs, sometimes I don’t. Either way, it’s odd for me as I’m not that talkative, but sometimes something just starts pouring out in worship, and it seems to draw me and at least some other people more deeply into God’s presence. That happened.

Thinking about it, I am so grateful that God accepts our simple worship. That he blesses tiny steps of obedience. That he leads me when I need leading. That he welcomes us into his presence.

The NBN finally grew up (beyond politics)

For a few years, newsfeeds, politicians and thousands of amateur opinionists provided a near-constant commentary on Australia’s National Broadband Network (NBN). On March 31st, 2015, it came of age, but I heard negligible public comment. The NBN has outgrown its political-plaything status, and is now actually poised to start delivering on its promises.

So what’s the big news?

NBN Co launches Fibre to the Building technology (link) 

So, what?

Well, let’s step back a bit, and look at some of the benefits originally promoted:

  • High speed Internet access for all Australians
  • Tele-health, e-health, including video consultations
  • Tele-commuting, ie work from home (or where-ever)
  • Improved access to government and educational services online
  • Online business interactions

Nice.

In terms of delivering those benefits, and achieving economies of scale, ubiquity is vital. Covering 10% of Australians might make a service useful. Covering 90% is very useful. The last 10% is where the real value lies. The premise of “virtually all Australians” being connected is incredibly potent, hence the word “national“.

There was much debate (especially between political parties) over Fibre To The Home (FTTH) vs Fibre To The Node (FTTN). In short, the then government insisted that only FTTH would be sufficient for future needs. Without the speeds of a fully-fibre connection, a doctor providing a video consultation wouldn’t be able to see when a patient is trembling.

Most of regional and rural Australia wasn’t to get fibre at all, but a patchwork of fixed-wireless and satellite services. Fixed wireless was initially announced to deliver 12Mbps/1Mbps throughput. Wait a minute, that’s much less than FTTN, and FTTN is insufficient, right? Satellite would be even slower. Also, wouldn’t these be the people with the greatest need for tele-health? How will the doctors see their patients trembling?!

Some readers might want to point out the FTTH acronym is outdated; I should now say “Fibre To The Premises”. But here exactly is my point:

Prior to April 2015, the NBN has not had the equipment, nor the installation processes, to deliver to:

  • blocks of units
  • business premises with more than one occupant
  • shopping centres

In other words, since the first customers were connected at the end of 2011, for more than 3 years, NBN has been primarily focused on one thing:

Houses in Suburbia

To my mind that means:

Politics trumping utility

Anyway, that was then. This is now. Early in 2014, trials began for Fibre To The Basement equipment, leading to the March 2015 announcement. Now, NBN can actually be delivered to a block of residential units, a block of business offices, a small mall or other situation where multiple small businesses share a building. Suddenly, a much bigger slice of Australia is reachable, or will be reachable as the infrastructure is put into place. Hooray!

Another political artefact

At a crucial time in establishing the NBN, Australia was faced with a hung parliament. In order to gain control, the Labor Party did a deal with the independent member for New England, Tony Windsor. Have a look at this NBN rollout map, overlaid with electoral boundaries at that time. Oh look, there’s some little towns with wireless!

NBN vs Electoral boundaries

Barraba and Delungra are covered, Bingara and Warialda aren’t.

Another positive development

In the face of earlier arguments, NBNCo looked to expand the range of technology for delivering the “last mile” connectivity. This is a good thing. Utilising more existing infrastructure (HFC), and FTTN options, means ubiquity can be achieved more quickly.

So…

The NBN is expanding. It has come of age and can now begin its serious work. It will still take several years to get anywhere near the ubiquity that justifies the approach, and I wonder how many of its opportunities will actually be taken up. Ask me in 10 years.

No water?

Water. Oh, how we take it for granted!

Just 48 hours after fixing the washing machine, I was perturbed that it wasn’t filling with water. Well, it was dribbling very slowly. Blocked filter? No. No water at the tap.

I went outside to check the main tap, and saw a crew working across the road, and a lot of water in the gutter. OK, it’ll be a little while.

It’s surprising how many times I attempted to use water, in just one hour, continually forgetting that it was unavailable. We’re just so used to water always being there.

Less than a year ago, I was sitting near the pump in a village in India, talking with the locals. I say “the” pump because it was shared between many homes and perhaps hundreds of people. In this place, there was plenty of water if you’re willing to work the handle, and carry the water to where you need it. However, the water was contaminated in a way that causes people’s joints to swell, especially knee joints. This visit was not about water, but the organisers also conduct journeys to install water tanks and/or long life filters in places that desperately need it.

And here I am, noticing the inconvenience of just one hour without reticulated water.

Maybe now is a good time to donate a water filter to someone who needs it.

Getting clean water from… muck?

The Real Meaning of Peace

Indeed.

Morning Story and Dilbert

There once was a king who offered a prize to the artist who would paint the best picture of peace. Many artists tried. The king looked at all the pictures. But there were only two he really liked, and he had to choose  between them.

One picture was of a calm lake. The lake was a perfect mirror for peaceful towering mountains all around it. Overhead was a blue sky with fluffy white clouds. All who saw this picture thought that it was a perfect picture of peace.

The other picture had mountains, too. But these were rugged and bare. Above was an angry sky, from which rain fell and in which lightning played. Down the side of the mountain tumbled a foaming waterfall. This did not look peaceful at all.

But when the king looked closely, he saw behind the waterfall a tiny bush growing in a crack in…

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Mark Virkler + India Teammates share

Mark Virkler writes…

Nine of our readers from four countries responded to the invitation to join Steve Stewart and myself on a Journey of Compassion to India. As you will read below, their lives were greatly impacted! I highly recommend you prayerfully consider doing a Journey of Compassion with Steve. He does about six of these a year. It is a wonderful opportunity to minister to the truly needy, while personally increasing in this healing anointing.

Below are some amazing stories! My personal story is in my India blogs. Six days after returning to the U.S. I did a CWG seminar and a healing activation in the evening using Steve’s 7 Step Healing Model. At least eight people received healing as they were prayed for by various volunteers from the evening service. Praise God!

One had a swollen, painful foot released from pain. Another had a frozen shoulder healed (as we prayed 4-5 times for it). For the first time in five years she was able to feel sensation in her finger tips!

Click here for the full article, including testimonies from several team members who responded to Mark’s invitation.

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See all entries on this journey: Related articles