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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Giving God A Lift

It's always bothered me a little when I'm in a worship service and someone says, "Let's lift up Jesus! He said if He was lifted up He would draw all men to Him!" Do these people realize that when Jesus said that, He was talking about his crucifixion?
[Jesus said,] "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself." He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die. -John 12:32-33 (ESV)
Jesus may have been quoting from the prophet Isaiah, who in talking about the suffering of the coming Messiah said:
Behold, my servant shall act wisely; he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted. As many were astonished at you-- his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind-- -Isaiah 52:13-14 (ESV)
Elsewhere in the Gospel of John Jesus compared His future experience of being "lifted up" on a cross to Moses lifting up a serpent on a pole in Numbers 21:4-9:
No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. -John 3:13-15 (ESV)
Also see John 8:21-30 for another incident where Jesus used this "lifted up" phrase to describe his crucifixion. Anyone who read through the book of John with his eyes open and brains switched on should have understood this; it bothers me that people seem to not be paying any better attention than that. It's almost like saying "Let's crucify Jesus this morning! Hooray!" and of course that would be totally unbiblical.

I do realize that people mean "worship Jesus" when they say "lift up Jesus." And granted, there is (kind of weak) Scriptural precedence for this usage as well:
And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. -Acts 1:9 (ESV)
But even if you intend "lift up" to mean "exalt," so you're saying that by "lifting Him up" you're exalting and glorifying God, giving Him an honor, then you risk taking credit for something God has already done:
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. -Philippians 2:9-11 (ESV) (italics mine)
In the long run, worship comes from the heart. You can probably sing "Yankee Doodle" if you want to, and if worship is truly in your heart God would accept it. But it pays to actually know what you're talking about even as a leader of worship, and especially if you are a preacher. There are people out there who listen to you and never actually crack open an honest-to-goodness Bible; if you feed them flawed theological images, it will only lead to confusion in the end.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Why You Aren't Receiving (Even Though You Are Asking)

In the circles I frequent, this is a very familiar verse (all boldface in this post is mine, not the ESV's):
If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. - John 15:7 (ESV)
According to just that verse, there are three requirements to getting your prayers answered:

1. Abide in Jesus
2. Have His Word in you
3. Ask in prayer

Of course, the context does a lot to define what it means to "abide in Jesus," so you can read that on your own, but in a nutsheel that's kind of it. At least, I always thought that was it, until last night when I read the passage to my son. Check out verse 16:
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. - John 15:16 (ESV)
That presents another requirement: you must be BEARING FRUIT. If you really need proof that bearing fruit is part of the scenario, read verse 7 in context:
I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. - John 15:1-8 (ESV)
You can't expect to follow some magic formula and somehow make God give you something, of course; sometimes God does things for reasons we don't understand. But it does make sense to live your life in such a way that you are not the cause of something you pray for not happening. If you re-read verse 16 above, it almost sounds like God is really wanting to fulfill your request, if you would just BEAR SOME FRUIT so He could do it! " that... he MAY give it to you." Of course, it could be argued that "bearing fruit" is part of "abiding in Me" (see verses 4-6), so really it's all present in verse 7, but it's illuminating how well it is summed up a few verses later.

Easier to read: NIV or ESV?

A few weeks ago a friend gave me a pen-style hand scanner she bought a year or two ago and became frustrated with (it's kind of tricky to use and requres a steady hand and lots of patience). I finally got around to fiddling with it this weekend, scanning whatever I could find that might be useful to have in my computer. I was hoping to use it to scan Scripture verses during church so I could review them later, so I pulled out my little ESV Trutone and scanned a bit with it, and then I pulled out my wife's NIV Life Application Study Bible and tried it out on that. Here are some of my results of scanning John 3:16:


16"For God so Ioveda the world that he gaye his one and only Sbn,t tii~t~ 4ho-el'er believes in him shall not perish but tiive eternal life.

16"For God so loveda tee world that he gave his one and onl? Song tliat whoever believes in him shall not perish but liave eternal life.


1~s~hr dd~~lo~td'fhe 4-oddl that Cave dis ohli~ Sofi, Flat i~rh~aver beje~ee iR tum 4htJula'~tlt)f'perlsn~idt' haire"et~ih~il He.

i6 aFLY GJCI so liked ~e R?or1d,6 Bat he ~~~e Cis ~iih~~iEiin~'djii i&~ohhir klieg ~i~i him should ~lo~pi~iE~biiti h$tje -et~ihHl;lii~

1e"Fi:)r Gob so l~~?eci ihe World.5 tin_et h_e gave his ~ht~scn.1 dlat jhe~'er believer Ri should uo~ perish but ha~x etcmal lae.

16 AF ,Genii SO Ibved -~i-idiid,~ ~at'he ~a,~ Cis only Son diat whoever be~ew~ hi belau Nm ihoulti net perish bu2 Inane eternal life.

~foi Ehd ? lb&a~ die Se]Ad.6 dint he g@Pit li% Tidy-SLni'dia~'%okiii 'l~l~ehh~s~ait hbii t~~ cut iJer1S[l But- wade-tiffie EJEe

It has been argued that the NIV is easier to read than the ESV. Clearly that is the case (at least it is if you are a handheld pen-style text reader!)

Thursday, July 6, 2006

Filled with the Spirit

Time for a pointless music video entry!

"Filled with the Spirit" rap on YouTube

Apparently this was actually used at a worship conference at Rick Warren's church. (see this blog entry that pointed me to it this morning). It's TOTALLY like the half-cool, half-really-lame Christian Rap stuff you saw in the late 80's/early 90's. If you ever saw a pre-Jesus Freak DC Talk video, you'll laugh 'till you cry. :)

"part the red sea, part the red sea... Do the burning bush, do the burning bush..."

Monday, July 3, 2006

Re: Open Letters to Worship Songwriters

An interview I read recently with recording artist Carolyn Arends pointed me toward an article by Brian McLaren called "An Open Letter to Worship Songwriters" (pdf). Reading this then led to John Mortensen's response to that article (pdf). I found both articles fascinating, and am giving both a much closer read; I do agree with them on many points, but I do not necessarily agree with them on all of the particulars.

I think McLaren has some good points about how we can branch out as songwriters, but my main disagreement with him is that I do not think all of these forms of music particularly belong in a "worship" setting, or in some cases even in a church service at all unless they have a context (for example, a "song of lament" could be kind of a downer if it was just performed during the offering with no explanation!) I do think that exploring new kinds of music in a concert artist kind of setting would really spice up things. CCM could use a little bit of a shakeup, and if more artists would think in terms of "what topics that are Biblical song material have I never looked at as potential material for my songs?" it could stretch them in new ways. Seems like maybe Ms. Arends has been thinking that way.

Because I'm guessing the "Emergent Movement" may be a controversial subject for some out there, I'll take a side track for a second here, and hopefully it won't take over this post too badly. I've been doing a little bit of reading on one of McLaren's books (Adventures in Missing the Point, co-written with Tony Campolo), and I have to say... although this "emerging church" thing is intriguing, to my way of thinking they risk going overboard on some points. My biggest disagreement is that they seem to stress social action more than my instincts say is appropriate. It is true that the Bible talks about social action much more than we may think about it as Christians in this day and age; I agree with that. And there is always something else we can do to show compassion for and help our fellow human being, and that is true also. But in the little bit of reading I've done so far, I get a nervous feeling that we are risking going too far into social action and maybe forgetting the most important thing: Jesus Christ was crucified to pay a price we could not pay, because He loved us and sought to reconcile us to Himself. We couldn't be with Him; He judged that as an unbearable situation, and He reconciled it by sacrificing literally everything. It is very true that we must help the poor in every way we can; that is commanded in the Scripture. And we must not browbeat them with our religious beliefs; that's common sense and frankly, good strategy, not to mention good manners. But we MUST be ready to share the Gospel at every opportunity, and I think McLaren's readers risk being on the wrong side of that line. In my humble opinion, if there is an iffy situation (should I share or should I not?) we should err on the side of sharing. I get a sense that McLaren might choose to err on the other side.

Or maybe I've just read the wrong chapters of the book, and "missed the point" myself! Maybe Emerging Church folks DO share the Gospel at every opportunity; I am ashamed to say that it wouldn't be hard to share it more than an introvert like me. I'm no expert on that movement, and I hope I haven't implied that they deby the divinity of Christ or the importance of His work on the cross or anything like that. They do not deny anything that I believe personally; they seem to just be seeking to extend things a bit, and I'm all for stretching for new horizons. My concern is that we are extremely careful not to leave behind ANY of the good in searching for the "more" good.

Anyway, check out the songwriters articles. Some of the nuts-and-bolts type of stuff about how to use rhymes and that sort of thing more effectively are PRICELESS advice. If you are a songwriter, you may come out a better one at the other end!