Cultivating a culture of worship: four practical suggestions

nathan-clark-george

Today’s post is by Nathan Clark George. Nathan is an award winning singer/songwriter, and serves as Chief Musician at Parish Presbyterian Church in Franklin, TN.


As God called Adam to tend and care for His creation, God calls the church musician to name, distinguish, care for and cultivate musical settings and compositions that enable and promote biblical, meaningful and vibrant congregational worship. Over the years I have done my best to stay out of the worship wars, but from my experience and what others have taught I do have practical suggestions that I hope are useful when considering music in the context of worship:

1. Focus. Our focus must be on God’s Word, for our singing is, in almost all cases, prayer. In prayer we usually spend less time talking about how we feel, and more time speaking about how God feels about a subject. Therefore, most of our music and its text should be God oriented, much like our spoken prayer.

2. Congregational vs. Individualistic. I have had several people ask if they can use my older settings of the Psalms, which were written for the purpose of presentation and performance and personal meditation, in congregational worship. My response is usually “good luck.” Now, there is certainly room to train, learn parts, practice, and get better, and we should do so, but there is also a reason Come Thou Fount is going nowhere soon. It’s singable. It’s not individualistic pop music. The rhythm and melodic movement employed is predictable, simple without being simplistic, and is accessible to the folks – it is true folk music. It is congregational.

3. Style. If we get sidetracked into thinking about how someone may or may not like our style, we will have gotten off track already. Remember, as John Frame pointed out, it’s less about style than content. I would add to that it’s less about style than purpose. Is our purpose to impress? Is our purpose to sound like Bach or Vaughn Williams? Then we have miss God’s purpose.

4. Sing the Psalms. Though I do not fall in the exclusive Psalmody camp, the importance of singing Psalms can barely be over emphasized. I would challenge us to look hard at our song choices and see how often we are singing the Psalms. Is it once a month? Once a week? Never? I would humbly and forcefully suggest that we begin to sing and write with the Psalms as fixtures before our eyes.

Above all, the Word of God and the worship of God must be the fertile soil in and out of which a musician cultivates a culture of worship that reflects God’s nature and glory.


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Nathan’s new album, To Live is Christ, is now available. You can download “Calm Content” free here.

All About Doing, Never About Believing

How painfully self–righteous are many! They can talk complacently about having “done their duty,” and being “kind to everybody,” and having always “kept to their church,” and having “never been so very bad” as some, and therefore they seem to think they must go to heaven! And as to deep sense of sin and simple faith in Christ’s blood and sacrifice, it seems to have no place in their religion. Their talk is all of doing and never of believing. And will such self–righteousness as this land anyone in heaven? Never! Without faith, without Christ!

J.C. Ryle, Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties, and Roots, pp. 305, 306

HT: J.C. Ryle Quotes

You Are What You Worship

Cross in Winter

“What wrong did your fathers find in me that they went far from me, and went after worthlessness, and became worthless?”

Jeremiah 2:5

The average person in the world today, without faith and without God and without hope, is engaged in a desperate personal search and struggle throughout his lifetime. He does not really know what he is doing here. He does not know where he is going. The sad commentary is that everything he is doing is being done on borrowed time, borrowed money and borrowed strength-and he already knows that in the end he will surely die! It boils down to the bewildered confession of many humans that they have lost God somewhere along the way. Man, made more like God than any other creature, has become less like God than any other creature. Created to reflect the glory of God, he has retreated sullenly into his cave-reflecting only his own sinfulness. Certainly it is a tragedy above all tragedies in this world that love has gone from man’s heart. Beyond that, light has gone from his mind. Having lost God, he blindly stumbled on through this dark world to find only a grave at the end!

A.W. Tozer

Dear Song Leader

Dear Song Leader,

You have a tough job. You’ve been tasked with leading the congregation in song, choosing music that flows with the sermon to be preached and is actually enjoyable.

And everybody has an opinion on what “enjoyable” means.

Including me.

There are some songs that are just offensive to my taste. There are some songs that are just impossible for me to sing because I’m a guy and the key is just too high (and I can’t pull off the skinny jeans that could make it possible to hit those high notes). I don’t like songs that go on for seven minutes when they have six words.

And I don’t like Hillsong United.

Truthfully, I could go the rest of my days without ever hearing another one of their songs and die a happy man. Because honestly, I doubt we’ll be singing any of their material in Heaven—not even “Mighty to Save.”

That’s my taste—and it’s something I am trying to get over every time I hear one of their songs. My taste is not what’s important. What’s important is that our songs are pleasing to Christ and communicating truth about Him and praise to Him.

Song leaders, I have a request:

Challenge us when we sing.

I’m not saying that you need to start rocking the classic hymns. (Although you could. They communicate the truths of the gospel in a way that many modern songs simply don’t even come close.)

I’m not saying put Romans 8 to music, or write a song that goes through the doctrines of grace or advocates for the free will of man in salvation (if such is your theological position).

I’m asking you to make us think deeply when we sing. Make us think deeply about what we’re singing. Confront us with our sin.

Help us rejoice in our salvation.

Sincerely,

Aaron

Will We Worship or Curse?

[I]t is not surprising that when Christ came into the world, all nature bowed to his authority. He commanded the wind and it obeyed. And when the disciples saw it they wondered. And then worshiped. “And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat. . . . And [Jesus] awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. . . . [The disciples] were filled with great fear and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?’” (Mark 4:37-41).

Water obeyed Jesus in more ways than one. When he commanded, it became “solid” under his feet, and he walked on it. When the disciples saw this they “worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God’” (Matthew 14:33). Another time, he commanded water, and it became wine at the wedding of Cana. In response, John says, he “manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him” (John 2:11). Wind and water do whatever the Lord Jesus tells them to do. Be still. Bear weight. Become wine. Natural laws were made by Christ and alter at his bidding.

The composition of all things was not only created by Christ (John 1:3; Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:2), but is also held in being moment by moment throughout the whole universe by his will. “He . . . upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:3). “In him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17). Jesus Christ defines reality in the beginning and gives it form every second.

Fatalities, fevers, fish, food, fig trees. Anywhere you turn, Christ is the absolute master over all material substance…

Now we have a choice. Worship or curse. . . . Will we worship or will we curse the One who rules the world? Shall sinners dictate who should live and who should die? Or shall we say with Hannah, “The LORD kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol [the grave] and raises up” (1 Samuel 2:6)? And shall we, with ashes on our heads, worship with Job, “Blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21)? Will we learn from James that there is good purpose in it all: “You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is com- passionate and merciful” (James 5:11)?

John Piper, Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ, pp. 45-47

The True Spirit of Christmas

© Gareth Weeks

What is the spirit of Christmas?

Worship, in a word, worship…nothing more and nothing less.

And, you know, as you look back over the Christmases of the ages, and we do that every Christmas season, we go back through history. I’ll tell you how we do it. We do it when we sing the carols. Do you realize that we’ve sung carols from as far back as the fifth century that have gone through several translations and finally reached us? And we’ve sang carols from the fifteenth century, the eleventh century, the seventeenth, the eighteenth, the sixteenth…as well as the nineteenth. And as you go back through the history of the Christmases and you touch those Christmas carols, you touch the most brilliant poets and articulators of Christmas truth and their attitude is always worship, it’s always been worship.

Listen to some of the Christmas carols. . . . We know [Luther] for his great theological work, but sometimes forget his great poetic work. . . . On one Christmas season Martin Luther wanted to write a Christmas carol for his little son, Hans. This is what he wrote. “From heaven above to earth I come, to bear good news to every home, glad tidings of great joy I bring, where of I now will say and sing. To you this night is born a child of Mary, chosen mother mild, this little child of lowly birth shall be the joy of all the earth. Were earth a thousand times as fair, beset with gold and jewels rare, she yet were far too poor to be a narrow cradle, Lord to Thee.” And then he ends, “Ah dearest Jesus, holy child, make Thee a bed soft undefiled within my heart that it may be a quiet chamber kept for Thee.” That’s worship. Take up your place in my heart.

William Dix . . . wrote the words to, “What child is this?” which . . . ends, “So bring Him incense, gold and myrrh, come, peasant king to own Him, the King of kings salvation brings, let loving hearts enthrone Him.” That’s worship…

Charles Wesley wrote six thousand hymns. Maybe the best you heard played this morning, “Hark the herald angels sing.” The last verse, “Hail the heaven born Prince of Peace, hail the Son of righteousness,” that means worship. “Light and life to all He brings, risen with healing in His wings, mild He lays His glory by,” that’s the incarnation, “born that man no more may die, born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth. Hark the herald angels sing, glory to the newborn King.” That’s worship.

One of my favorite poets of the nineteenth century is Christina Rosetti. . . . Through that life she wrote some of the most magnificent poetry, all of it a tribute to Christ. She wrote this poem and it was set to music twelve years after her death. “In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan, earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone. Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow in the bleak midwinter long ago. Our God, heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain. Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign. In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed, the Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ. Angels and archangels may have gathered there, cherubim and seraphim throng the air, but His mother only in her maiden bliss worshiped the beloved with a kiss.” Then she ends with this great, great stanza, “What can I give Him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd I’d give Him a lamb. If I were a wise man I’d do my part, but what can I give Him? Give my heart.” That’s worship.

And maybe it was John Francis Wade who died in 1786 who summed it all up in the simple words, “O come let us adore Him, O come let us adore Him, O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.”

John F. Macarthur Jr., The True Christmas Spirit (12/24/1995). © Grace to You.

Sit in Front of Your Savior: An Interview with Author Nate Palmer

Nate Palmer is a husband, father of three young kids from Dallas, TX. In addition to working for the software firm SAP, he pursuing his M.A. in Religion online from Reformed Theological Seminary and has had articles published in Modern Reformation and Reformed Perspectives Magazine.

Nate’s new book, Servanthood as Worship, is now available from Cruciform Press. He graciously agreed to take some time and answer a few questions about the process of writing the book, why you should read it and what’s next.


1. What led you to want to write on service as worship in the first place?

As I wrote in the opening chapter, after an initial burst of excitement after being saved I began to really struggle with serving in the local church. I knew something was wrong and that I couldn’t continue like this. Around that time our church in California decided to send a church planting team to Texas. My wife and I felt God calling us to go with them. I knew this embryonic church would need people to serve a lot more than in an established church, but I questioned if I could do that. I knew I couldn’t serve in the condition I was in. I felt as if I would be a dead weight to the church and a liability to my pastor. So I went to my pastor and told him how I was struggling. We talked, prayed, and read some scriptures. As I was leaving his office, I asked him if there was a more in depth resource I could read – to which he replied that other than a few chapters in various books (he wisely pointed me to a chapter in Donald Whitney’s book) that he didn’t know any. So I decided to write my own – I guess the old saying “necessity is the mother of invention” applied in this case.

2. When Cruciform Press picked up the book, what was your initial reaction? Your family’s?

I was absolutely thrilled, shocked, and scared all at the same time. I mean I am a nobody – no platform to speak of, just an ordinary guy who wrote a book on something he stunk at – and here a publisher was picking my little book. My wife, who has been really supportive during the 5 years of writing and rewriting this, was proud and excited for me.

3. What challenges did you find writing this book, if any?

The challenge is to fully cover such a deep subject and feel like I have done it justice.

4. You write about the shift that happened in your own life and attitude toward service, that you from “thrilled to ambivalent to resentful to selfishly ambitious,” all in the span of a few months. Would you say this is a unique experience to you or is it something that’s far too common?

From what I have seen and heard, my experience is not so unique. My attitude shift may have happened faster than most, but everyone at some point feels the same frustrations. It is so common that we even have a term for it called burn-out. [Read more...]

Book Review: Servanthood as Worship by Nate Palmer

Title: Servanthood as Worship
Author: Nate Palmer
Publisher: Cruciform Press (2010)

It’s Saturday night and you’ve just enjoyed a great night out. You get ready for bed, your head hits the pillow and you realize:

“Oh man, I’m on set up tomorrow. Ugh…”

I know that there have been times that I’ve felt that way. When I’ve volunteered to serve and can remember when I used to enjoy it… but now, I wish I could call in sick. Nate Palmer understands this—he’s been there. And in Servanthood as Worship, he seeks to help readers develop a theology of service that will bring joy to others (and ourselves) and glory to God.

Palmer view of servanthood is inspiring. He roots servanthood firmly in the gospel—that our service flows from Christ coming as a servant on our behalf. “As Christians, our standing with God—our very salvation—does not depend on whether we serve, but that Christ first served us. . . . All our service for God begins and ends with service from God,” he writes (p. 15). This is a shift that many of us—myself included—desperately need. Too often our view of service comes out of this place of trying to earn standing before God and men.

We put on a happy face and we work hard until we burn out.

The funny thing is, it seems like we’re being set up for this to happen, doesn’t it? I remember at one church hearing about how 20 percent of the people at a church were doing 80 percent of the work. As part of that so-called 20 percent, that puts a lot of pressure on you, because if you need a respite, there’s no one to fill the gap. The burden of duty leads to bitterness… and people don’t even realize it.

Instead, we need to embrace service as what it actually is—worship. To see it as an outward evidence of our inward transformation. [Read more...]

Around the Interweb (08/29)

Martin Lloyd-Jones on Family Worship

If you love your children; if you would bring down the blessing of heaven upon your families; if you would have your children make their houses the receptacles of religion when they set up in life for themselves; if you would have religion survive in this place, and be conveyed from age to age; if you would deliver your own souls—I beseech, I entreat, I charge you to begin and continue the worship of God in your families from this day to the close of your lives… Consider family religion not merely as a duty imposed by authority, but as your greatest privilege granted by divine grace.

From Donald Whitney’s book Family Worship

HT: The Resurgence

In Other News

Parenting: My wife was interviewed on the How to Be Awesome podcast. The subject? How to be an awesome mom.

Writing: Tim Challies shares about latest writing projects, including The Next Story (coming in 2011 from Zondervan)

Pastors: Piper’s desire for his church during his sabbatical:

In Case You Missed It

Here are a few of this week’s notable posts:

A review of Anne Bradstreet by D. B. Kellogg

A Precise God

Sermon audio: Be Heavenly-minded

The Bible’s Not About You

Spurgeon encourages us to see Jesus as our greatest object of astonishment

Meet the Evangelical Pagan

At the Exchange Conference, Mark Driscoll spoke on Oneism vs. Twoism; how we by nature are idolators because we worship and serve created things rather than our Creator (you can read my notes from the sessions here). In this excerpt from his first lecture, Driscoll describes the Evangelical pagan.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon: Amidst Us Our Belov'd Stands

Amidst us our Belov’d stands,
And bids us view His pierc’d hands;
Points to His wounded feet and side,
Blest emblems of the Crucified.

What food luxurious loads the board,
When at His table sits the Lord!

The wine how rich, the bread how sweet,
When Jesus deigns the guests to meet!

If now with eyes defiled and dim,
We see the signs but see not Him,
Oh, may His love the scales displace,
And bid us see Him face to face!

Our former transports we recount,
When with Him in the holy mount,
These cause our souls to thirst anew,
His marr’d but lovely face to view.

Thou glorious Bridegroom of our hearts,
Thy present smile a heaven imparts:
Oh, lift the veil, if veil there be,
Let every saint Thy beauties see!

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Communion Hymn (Published in Till He Come)

Sermon Audio: Spiritual Poverty and the Worship of God

On Sunday, July 25, 2010, I had the privilege of preaching a message called Spiritual Poverty and the Word of God at Brussels Community Bible Chapel in Brussels, Ontario. This message from Psalm 63 looks at our need to be satisfied and comforted by God’s presence as we seek Him in His worship.

An MP3 of this message is available here.

The original sermon notes follow: [Read more...]

Truth and Lies: Dr. Peter Jones – the Truth and the Lie in Worship

In his first session, Dr. Peter Jones focused on giving us a foundation for everything we would hear about the effects of one-ist and two-ist worldviews.

Romans 1:25 tells us that “they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator.” Jones (and all the speakers) reminds us that it is essential to keep this text top of mind as it explains what we’ve done in creating for ourselves our own worldview in our sin.

We live in a culture of spirituality. “Elements of Eastern faiths and New Age thinking have been adopted by 65% of American adults.”And, according to USA Today, 70% of Americans surveyed believe many religions can lead to God.

Some of the most popular religions in America (among celebrities) include Kabbalah (adherents include Demi Moore, Britney Spears, Madonna, & Courtney Love); Scientology (Brad Pitt, Sylvester Stallone, John Travolta, & Tom Cruise); and Buddhism (Harrison Ford, Richard Gere, Tiger Woods and others).

“All these share a one-ist worldview—that we are one together and God is one with us,” says Jones. “One-ism is a faith presupposition since we cannot know by research if everything is one, [and] it leads to worship.”

One-ism Affects Everything

One-ism affects everything; it frames the issues that we face every day: [Read more...]

Truth and Lies: Mark Driscoll – One-ism vs Two-ism

Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church is borderline infamous. His blunt and sometimes brash style of expository preaching has made his sermon feeds one of the top of the iTunes charts—and made him the internet’s piñata.

As the co-host of The Exchange, Driscoll covered the topic of one-ism vs. two-ism, primarily focusing on the realm of popular culture over two sessions, with his third session devoted how one-ism affects pastoral care. This post relates the big ideas of the first session (although I unfortunately missed the first half of session one due to a meeting).

Driscoll focused primarily on what it means to be a worshipper, and simply that we are all worshippers all the time. It’s what we’re created for—and also what we were created as.

We were created to reflect, mirror, image God in creation, says Driscoll. However, through sin, we have a proclivity to worship created things rather than our Creator God.

This is most apparent today in our “sacred culture,” the marks of which are:

  1. The myths that define life
  2. Community
  3. Sacred ritual

These aspects show up in most every area of our lives.

Music. We follow our favorite bands; we sing their songs, we buy all their records. When they make a bad one, we’re in music hell. Concerts are worship events.

Sports. We worship teams, dress up like our favorite athletes by wearing the same jersey and number. Our worship activities start up a few blocks away as we walk to the stadium and talk about what’s going to happen. “People won’t even drive to your church, but they’ll walk to the ball park,” says Driscoll. There are sacred spaces, such as “the hallowed ground of old Yankee Stadium.” If your team is winning, you’re in heaven. If it’s losing, you’re in hell. [Read more...]