For the Beauty of the Earth: Essentials Blue, Final Project

For The Institute of Contemporary and Emerging Worship Studies, St. Stephen’s University, Essentials Blue Online Worship Theology Course with Dan Wilt.

“For the beauty of the earth, for the glory of the skies, for the love which from our birth over and around us lies…”[1]

I have been thinking about this hymn since reading the identically titled chapter in N.T. Wright’s Simply Christian. I most associate the song with the scene when it is sung in Little Women (a favorite childhood book and movie of mine), and I’ve had the song stuck in my head for the past few weeks.

One of our readings talked about singing a new song to the Lord, and how this could mean writing something original or re-envisioning an old  hymn in a new way. I find the lyrics to this hymn still beautiful and powerful after nearly 150 years. Despite its brokenness, our world is full of beauty and wonderment. As despair looms large over our society, I want to recall the blessings, to remember just some of the reasons why God is, in fact, worthy of “our hymn of grateful praise.”

Below is a (very) rough live recording of Folliott S. Pierpoint’s classic hymn reinvigorated with my own new melody. A chord sheet with lyrics is included as well.

For the Beauty of the Earth

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Gifts from Scattered Tributaries: Essentials Blue, Week Four

For The Institute of Contemporary and Emerging Worship Studies, St. Stephen’s University, Essentials Blue Online Worship Theology Course with Dan Wilt.

One of the images N. T. Wright uses to describe the church is “the single great river formed from tens of thousands of scattered tributaries.” [1] As I read this, I thought of the gifts of worship I have received through some of these “scattered tributaries” I’ve had the privilege of experiencing.

I grew up with a worship style that would be challenging for many in the Vineyard movement of which I am now a part: that is, a cappella or non-instrumental worship. While I am thankful for the opportunity to use my musicianship and lead worship from my guitar, I am also exceedingly grateful for the gift of growing up with a cappella worship.

Worshiping with voices as the only instruments has provided me with some practical and spiritual understanding that I’m not sure I would otherwise have.

One benefit of a cappella worship was the ear for tune I developed from an early age. As a result, I can easily find harmonies and love blending my voice with others. Singing together in different harmonies and registers, with different parts and timbres is incredibly unifying. The human voice is the only instrument that is unique to each of us, and I have learned to celebrate the beauty of joining these myriad instruments together in song.

Because of my upbringing in non-instrumental worship, I can also confidently worship anywhere, with or without a guitar or a piano. I have fond memories of being at camp, walking arm in arm with my friends and just singing to the Lord. We were free to lift up the song in our hearts, and we were not dependent on a band to set the key or timing. One of us could start any song of praise, and the rest of us could freely and easily join together in spontaneous worship.

I do believe instruments are important add another layer to worship, and I know that instrumental worship is accessible in our culture. I also know that having a guitar or piano allows many voices to sing with strength and confidence.

As far as my personal preference goes, I cannot say at this point that I prefer one of these worship styles over the other. I think both are valid, and I see unique strengths in each. I would love to incorporate more a cappella worship into my present tradition, especially for the spontaneity it affords. I miss the freedom of being able to begin a song at the Spirit’s leading in a situation where a guitar might not be available (in a prayer meeting, for example). I do hope I can bring some of my foundation into my current community—gifts from “scattered tributary” to another.

1. N.T. Wright, “Simply Christian” (New York: HarperCollins, 2006), p. 201.

A Christian Worldview: Essentials Blue, Week Four

For The Institute of Contemporary and Emerging Worship Studies, St. Stephen’s University, Essentials Blue Online Worship Theology Course with Dan Wilt.

As part of my reflection on theology, I have composed a brief summary of a foundational Christian worldview. Based on my study, faith, and understanding, here is an attempt to answer some of the questions of theology (Who is God? Who are we and why are we here? What happened to the world, and what is God going to do about it?) in simple terms:

God is love and love expressed. He is eternal, unchanging, active, living, near and yet mysterious.

He is Creator: he loves to create and continues to do so. He is King: he reigns in just, responsible, protective sovereignty. He is Trinity, a communal being in and of himself, engaged in and desiring relationship. He is Saviour, capable of and desiring to restore, reclaim, and redeem all that is broken and lost. [1]

We are his creation, his image-bearers, sub-creators, and storytellers [2] who long for justice, who admire beauty, who thrive in relationship and whither in isolation, spiritual beings who search for meaning and purpose. [3] We think and feel and remember and dream as we experience the world that is, the world that was, and the world that will be.

Out of love, God gave us the gift of choice and free will, and we chose not to trust. We bought the lie that he did not have our best interest in mind, and we missed the opportunity for perfect communion with him. We settled for less than his perfect plan, and in doing so we invited separation, pain, death and brokenness into the world.

In his grace, God our Saviour immediately began staging a rescue operation. Through the sacrifice of resurrected Jesus, we have access to salvation, not only for eternity, but for us to connect with God and experience his kingdom here and now.

We can now respond to his pursuit of us and experience his kingdom, which is not just a future event but a current reality in the “overlapping, interlocking” spheres of heaven and earth. The arrival of God’s kingdom was ushered in by Jesus’ action “to bring heaven to earth and join them together forever, to bring God’s future into the present and make it stick there.” [4]

We now have the gift of God’s Holy Spirit, and we now (in our bodies and as the body of the church) have become the Temple, an intersection of heaven and earth. [5]

God calls us to be part of his new creation and agents of his new creation [6], and he gives us aid to accomplish this, beginning with his living Spirit. His saving plan also includes his word, the Bible, a gift to “sustain and direct” us [7], and the Body of Christ as made manifest through the church, “the means of his action in and for the world.” [8]

We are living as people of light in a darkened, sleeping world.

We will experience death, but we will also have the assurance of “life after death” (to be with Christ) and ultimately “life after ‘life after death,’ ” bodily resurrection in God’s new heaven and new earth. [9] All that is broken and cut off and separated will be restored, renewed, reunited and recreated. We will once again live with God as he desired and intended.

In the meantime, we respond in worship. We are “penciling the sketches for the masterpiece that God will one day call us to help him paint” [10], and we are “practicing, in the present, the tunes we shall sing in God’s new world.” [11]

1. Dan Wilt, “The Nature of God” (Essentials Blue Online Course video).

2. Dan Wilt, “Essentials in Worship Theology: The Nature of the Human Being” (Essentials Blue Online Course e-book).

3. N.T. Wright, “Simply Christian” (New York: HarperCollins, 2006), p. 51.

4. Wright, p. 102.

5. Wright, p. 132.

6. Wright, p. 236.

7. Wright, p. 190

8. Wright, p. 201

9. Wright, p. 222.

10. Wright, p. 218.

11. Wright, p. 206.

Finding Myself: Essentials Blue, Week Three

For The Institute of Contemporary and Emerging Worship Studies, St. Stephen’s University, Essentials Blue Online Worship Theology Course with Dan Wilt.

Like many in my generation, I have been stumbling along the rambling path of “self discovery.” A longing to uncover my true self, my calling, and ultimately, my worth, has led me to personality tests and career profiles. It has sent me to (and away from) grad school and landed me in (and out of) jobs. For some of my friends, the quest to “find” themselves has taken them across state lines and oceans, in and out of relationships, to and from churches, diets, clubs and careers.

Libraries and book stores contain daunting self help aisles, and I will sheepishly admit that I have skimmed volumes in effort to figure out why I do what I do or don’t do what I want to do or what I’m supposed to do anyway. I figured that if I “found myself” and my true calling, I would only then be able to really glorify God and find true contentment and satisfaction.

Is this what it means to be human? Is this our task—to find who we are and be that, to find what we ought to do and do it?

In his discussion about what it means to live as a Christian, N.T. Wright suggests that our journey will involve both “renunciation” and “rediscovery.” He mentions Jesus’ charge to his disciples to take up their cross and follow him: “The only way to find yourself, [Jesus] said, is to lose yourself (a strikingly different agenda from today’s finding-out-who-I-really-am philosophies).” [1]

The Message puts it this way:

If you don’t go all the way with me, through thick and thin, you don’t deserve me. If your first concern is to look after yourself, you’ll never find yourself. But if you forget about yourself and look to me, you’ll find both yourself and me. [2]

Once again, we seem to have gotten things backwards.

For me, this realization begs two questions: first, does “losing myself” mean forsaking my humanity in favor of spirituality, and second, what does that mean for my calling?

As N.T. Wright moves from “renunciation” to “rediscovery,” he addresses this first concern: “New creation is not a denial of our humanness, but its reaffirmation…Learning to live as a Christian is learning to live as a renewed human being…” [3]

Losing ourselves then, is more a matter of knowing the God in whose image we are made so that we might reflect that image more clearly and more accurately, as only we humans out of all creation can.

And what of the calling?

Madeleine L’Engle has this to say: “God is constantly creating, in us, through us, with us, and to co-create with God is our human calling.” [4] As co-creators (or sub-creators), Dan Wilt suggests, “our primary mission is to tell the story of salvation, from original creation, to fall from relationship, to restoration through the cross and resurrection, to complete and universal new creation.” [5]

N.T. Wright adds the following:

We are called to be part of God’s new creation, called to be agents of that new creation here and now. We are called to model and display that new creation in symphonies and family life, in restorative justice and poetry, in holiness and service to the poor, in politics and painting. [6]

Regardless of my vocation, I am retell the redemption story with whatever gifts and tools he has given me, on whatever stage he has set me, to whatever audience I have before me. This is my story. I will continue growing to know the One who knows me, and as I lose myself in Him I will truly live.

1. N. T. Wright, Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense (New York: HarperCollins, 2006), p. 223.

2. Eugene H. Peterson, The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2002), Matthew 10:38-39 from BibleGateway.com

3. Wright, p. 223

4. Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art (New York: North Point Press, 1995), 81.

5. Dan Wilt, Essentials in Worship Theology: The Nature of the Human Being (New Brunswick: The Institute of Contemporary & Emerging Worship Studies, 2008), Essentials Blue Worship Theology Online Course e-book, p. 32.

6. Wright, p. 236.

In Need of a Bailout: Essentials Blue, Week Two

For The Institute of Contemporary and Emerging Worship Studies, St. Stephen’s University, Essentials Blue Online Worship Theology Course with Dan Wilt.

For years, much of America hummed along in self-sufficient comfort. We didn’t need to have money to spend it. We didn’t have to wait for our dream house or our dinner. We didn’t need help and we certainly didn’t need rescuing…

…but then markets start plunging and banks start failing and bills start coming and jobs start disappearing…

Suddenly we wake up and realize that things are not okay. Our industries need saving, our jobs need saving, our homes need saving. We need saving.

This week I’ve been contemplating the idea of God as Saviour. His nature as our Rescuer has not been very popular in our self-sufficient, individualistic society. Like two-year-olds asserting our independence, we’ve cried that we can do it ourselves! Now we are realizing that we’ve made mistakes, we have messed things up, and something must be done to fix things.

In the coming weeks (months? years?), I suspect our broken hearts may become more receptive to the notion of God as Saviour. The church has an opportunity to reintroduce the Saviour of the world to hearts and minds that may begin to recognize a need for something (Someone) outside of themselves.

I often feel my need for God more deeply when I am in pain. I am especially comforted to know that God is not simply looking on, but he is with me in my trouble. I see God so differently when I realize that he not only suffered for me, but he suffers with me. He seeks us, and he longs to reconcile us to himself. [1]

In my personal quest to see God as Saviour, I face two areas of resistance. First, I must ask if I need saving from anything, and I must decide that the answer is yes. Second, I must ask what this saving will cost me.

I’ve often struggled with the idea of grace as a free gift. Some part of me still thinks I must have work to do to earn this rescue, and I have sometimes assumed this was what God meant when he gave the Law in the Torah. N. T. Wright counters with this:

When God frees you from slavery, said the Torah, this is how you must behave, not to earn his favor (as though you could put God in your moral debt), but to express your gratitude, your loyalty, and your determination to live by the covenant because of which God rescued you in the first place. [2]

So good works are not payment requested (or demanded) because of his salvation. Not only that, but trying to use good works to buy grace is a little like trying to use a pile of rocks to buy a car. The currency just doesn’t work.

Despite all this, God not only wants to save us, but it is in his power to do so. God is capable of saving us not because he is merely a better, more perfect version of us. Though we are made in his image, he is something else entirely. “He is his own category…That is why we can’t expect to mount a ladder of arguments from our world and end up in his, any more than we might expect to mount a ladder of moral achievement and end up making ourselves good enough to stand in his presence.” [3]

With this truth fresh in my mind, I will humbly and boldly approach the throne of God. I know I’m in trouble, and I know I can’t buy my way out. I suspect I may not be alone in this realization.

1. Dan Wilt, Essentials in Worship Theology: The Nature of God (New Brunswick: The Institute of Contemporary & Emerging Worship Studies, 2008), Essentials Blue Worship Theology Online Course Video.

2. N. T. Wright, Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense (New York: HarperCollins, 2006), p. 82.

3. Wright, p. 67.

The Problem of Justice: Essentials Blue, Week One

For The Institute of Contemporary and Emerging Worship Studies, St. Stephen’s University, Essentials Blue Online Worship Theology Course with Dan Wilt.

“Theology shows itself over time, in the way we live, the way we relate, the way we communicate and in the way we worship…Our theology shows up, often when we least expect it…” [1]

Months before I began this course on worship theology, my own theology (some of the good, lots of the bad) started showing up unexpectedly. My responses to painful circumstances have made me realize many of the lies I believe. I know they are lies, but they have deep roots. They are unbecoming and yet somehow comfortable, like my old ripped jeans or my bad habits.

I could just go on living with my bad theology. It wouldn’t be ideal, and it would surely be frustrating, but it also wouldn’t be difficult. Problem is, I’m teaching theology—the good, the bad, the downright untrue—whether I intend to or not.

When I lead worship, when I draw a picture, when I have a conversation, I am teaching theology. I am communicating (consciously or unconsciously) what I believe to be true about God, about humanity, and about the world in which we live. [2] I may have learned to cope with my own bad theology, but I know I don’t want to transfer these burdens onto anyone else.

In his book Simply Christian, N. T. Wright lays a framework for theology by discussing four “echoes of a voice” that point “beyond our landscape of contemporary culture and out into the unknown.” [3] He lists these “echoes” as our longing for justice, our thirst for spirituality, our desire for relationship, and our attraction to beauty. [4] Of these four, I am most energized by a cry for justice.

I see a God of justice and His followers’ appeals to this part of His character throughout scripture (Psalm 94:1-2, Psalm 103:6, Isaiah 59, and Lamentations 3:55-66 to name a few).

Indignation and anger rise up in me when I see or experience injustice. When I see people wronged, even in works of fiction, my heart burns within me. I want to see things set right.

The problem is that I do not understand God’s justice. I often feel like the prodigal son’s older brother, like I’ve been working and working and not getting my due…or worse yet, I feel like I’m being mistreated while others are being blessed. But I, too, have run from God in my own way. I seem to want grace for myself, but I want “justice” for others. Wright says, “The line between justice and injustice…can’t be drawn between ‘us’ and ‘them.’ It runs right down through the middle of each one of us. ” [5] As Paul laments in Romans, “What I want to do I do not do…for what I do is not the good I want to do.” [6]

I feel like Mack, the protagonist in William Paul Young’s novel The Shack, who is called to an encounter with God after experiencing an unspeakably tragic loss. In his pain and questioning, Mack hears these words:

You really don’t understand yet. You try to make sense of the world in which you live based on a very small and incomplete picture of reality. It is like looking at a parade through the tiny knothole of hurt, pain, self-centeredness, and power, and believing you are on your own and insignificant. All of these contain powerful lies. You see pain and death as ultimate evils and God as the ultimate betrayer, or perhaps, at best, as fundamentally untrustworthy…you don’t think that I am good…[7]

This may, unfortunately, describe some of my own theology. But I know this is not the theology I want, and it is certainly not the theology I want to teach.

May God redeem me and my thirst for justice, and may He gently correct my bad theology so that when I lead worship, I will teach truth.

1. Dan Wilt, Essentials in Worship Theology: An Introduction (New Brunswick: The Institute of Contemporary & Emerging Worship Studies, 2008), Essentials Blue Worship Theology Online Course Text, p.3.

2. Wilt, p. 2.

3. N. T. Wright, Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense (New York: HarperCollins, 2006), p. xi.

4. Wright, p. 51.

5. Wright, p. 6.

6. Romans 7: 15-19, The Holy Bible, New International Version (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House, 1991).

7. William Paul Young, The Shack (Newbury Park, California: Windblown Media, 2007), p. 126.

We Come To Your Table: Essentials Red, Final Project

For The Institute of Contemporary and Emerging Worship Studies, St. Stephen’s University, Essentials Red Online Worship History Course with Dan Wilt.

Over the past five weeks, my eyes have been opened by a study of worship history. Our survey of worship languages has strengthened my spiritual foundation and sparked ideas to bring new life and strength to my worship. One worship language of particular interest to me was that of sacred acts, specifically Baptism and Eucharist.

Eucharist (or Communion, or the Lord’s Supper) was always an important part of my spiritual heritage, and our study gave me a deeper understanding and appreciation for this “sign act.” I grew up in a church where weekly Communion was a central part of the service, and the church I currently attend is rediscovering the significance of returning weekly to the Lord’s table.

Whenever I take the Lord’s Supper, I am reminded of the debt Christ paid for me. I have spent much of my life trying to punish myself for my sins (in the past, physically; still, unfortunately, in my thoughts and self-talk). The bread and wine are a reminder of my Saviour who took the punishment for me. I remember that it is already done. The debt is paid, and there is nothing left for me to do. I am free…wholly and freely forgiven.

This realization always gives me a sense of relief and gratitude, which is a decent starting point for worship. I am learning, though, that God wants more for me. He wants me to rejoice.

I have learned that for early Christians, Communion was a feast, a celebration of the resurrection. It was also a communal act that united Christians. The body of Christ (the church) came together in the sharing of the body of Christ (Communion).

I wanted to write a song for Communion that marked this united celebration. Here is a very rough recording of the results:

And here is PDF with lyrics and chords:

We Come To Your Table

Ephesians 1:5-7