Name Above All Names

On Sunday I preached the final sermon in our recent series through the book o Jude. In closing, I referenced a framed poster in my office that my parents gave me back in the 1990s. It has printed on it the heading "Name Above All Names" and then lists every book of the Bible and how Jesus Christ is revealed in each one. These words are actually the lyrics from a song by Don Moen in his musical presentation titled "God With Us." In the day when choirs and choral presentations were prevalent, many churches presented this musical.

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There have been other songs by different artists throughout the years who have presented songs with similar themes. While only the Bible is inerrant, the message in this portion of one song points toward the immutable Word and reminds us that Jesus is not a biblical character who appeared first in a cave in Bethlehem, but as the second person of the Trinity is fully God and sovereign over all. God is present in every book of the Bible, Old and New Testaments, and Christ is revealed as the Savior, Redeemer, Messiah, Sovereign Lord, and Christ.

Some have asked for a copy of what I read, so I provide it here in this article and also as a downloadable PDF file. The musical is titled "God With Us" and was written and produced by Don Moen and released in 1993. The copyright is held by Integrity Music.

KING OF KINGS

  • In Genesis, Jesus is the ram at Abraham’s altar
  • In Exodus, he is the Passover lamb
  • In Leviticus, he is the High Priest
  • In Numbers, he is the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night
  • In Deuteronomy, he is the city of our refuge
  • In Joshua, he is the scarlet thread out Rahab’s window
  • In Judges, he is our judge
  • In Ruth, he is our kinsman redeemer
  • In 1 and 2 Samuel, he is our trusted prophet
  • In Kings and Chronicles, he is our reigning king
  • In Ezra, he is our faithful scribe
  • In Nehemiah, he is the rebuilder of everything that is broken
  • In Esther, he is the Mordecai sitting faithful at the gate
  • In Job, he is our redeemer that ever liveth
  • In Psalms, he is my shepherd, and I shall not want
  • In Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, he is our wisdom
  • In the Song of Solomon, he is the beautiful bridegroom
  • In Isaiah, he is the suffering servant
  • In Jeremiah and Lamentations, it is Jesus that is the weeping prophet
  • In Ezekiel, he is the wonderful four-faced man
  • And in Daniel, he is the fourth man in the midst of a fiery furnace
  • In Hosea, he is my love that is forever faithful
  • In Joel, he baptizes us with the Holy Spirit
  • In Amos, he is our burden bearer
  • In Obadiah, our savior
  • And in Jonah, he is the great foreign missionary that takes the Word of God into all the world
  • You go on and see in Micah, he is the messenger with beautiful feet
  • In Nahum, he is the avenger
  • In Habakkuk, he is the watchman that is ever praying for revival
  • In Zephaniah, he is the Lord mighty to save
  • In Haggai, he is the restorer of our lost heritage
  • In Zechariah, he is our fountain
  • And in Malachi, he is the son of righteousness with healing in his wings
  • In Matthew, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God
  • In Mark, he is the miracle worker
  • In Luke, he is the Son of man
  • And in John, he is the door by which everyone of us must enter
  • In Acts, he is the shining light that appears to Saul on the road to Damascus
  • In Romans, he is our justifier
  • In 1 Corinthians, our resurrection
  • In 2 Corinthians, our sin bearer
  • In Galatians, he redeems us from the law
  • In Ephesians, he is our unsearchable riches
  • In Philippians, he supplies our every need
  • And in Colossians, he is the fullness of the godhead bodily
  • In 1 and 2 Thessalonians, he is our soon coming king
  • In 1 and 2 Timothy, he is the mediator between God and man
  • In Titus, he is our blessed hope
  • In Philemon, he is a friend that sticks closer than a brother
  • And in Hebrews, he is the blood of the everlasting covenant
  • In James, it is the Lord that heals the sick
  • In 1 and 2 Peter, he is the chief shepherd
  • In 1, 2, and 3 John, it is Jesus who has the tenderness of love
  • In Jude, he is the Lord coming with 10,000 saints
  • And in Revelation, life up your eyes, church, for your redemption draweth nigh, he is the King of kings and Lord of lords.

Download Name Above All Names

Click below to enjoy the recitation from the song.

 


The "Constructive Criticism" Offered to Worship Leaders Is Often Just Criticism

Most often after a church calls a senior pastor, the next leadership position to be filled, if they are able to pay more than one staff person, is a worship leader (or Minister of Music/Worship Pastor.) 

There is no biblical office of "worship leader" in the church. That does not mean the position is unnecessary or anti-biblical. Some churches hire worship leaders while others call worship pastors. There is a distinction. Any pastor or elder in a local body is bound by the calling and qualifications as defined in Scripture. A worship leader may or may not be considered a pastoral role. That is dependent on the local church.

The Worship Leader

On a Q & A posting from gotquestions.org, the following explanation is given in part as to the role of a worship leader:

Because worship leader is not a biblical office for the church, his role is somewhat indistinct. Most worship leaders are musicians of some kind, whether vocal or instrumental, and their primary role is to lead the other musicians/singers that are involved in the service. It is the responsibility of the worship leader to ensure that it is not the music, nor the instruments, nor the presentation, nor the voices which are the focus of the worship service. Worship is bowing humbly before God and exalting Jesus Christ as King of kings and Lord of lords. The responsibility of the worship leader is to become less, that Jesus Christ can become more. And when all of this is done, when hearts are humble before Him, His people are ready to receive, and be changed by, the focal point of the worship service—His glorious and living Word.

Beyond the requirements a church may have for paid worship leaders and the clear biblical requirements of one who also serves as an associate pastor/elder in the church, the reason I believe this position may be one of the most challenging in the church is due to the constant pressure placed upon him from church members and congregants.

This posting is not about the biblical, theological, or personal issues regarding a worship leader at a local church (though those must be high on the list for anyone standing before the church body in any position of leadership,) but rather about the pressures placed on those who work weekly in planning and preparing the gathered church's worship on the Lord's Day.

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In a conversation with our worship pastor earlier this week he stated "This has been the most difficult year in ministry for me regarding worship on the Lord's Day." I presumed he was speaking of the pressures related to COVID and the institution of online services, socially distanced gatherings, masks/no masks, a consolidation of campuses, and all that we faced together as a church. While those certainly added to the strain, he declared that never in his decades of pastoral ministry has he faced such a continual barrage of constructive criticism on how to do his job better. 

He was not whining. He is up to the task, but I asked and he was honest and shared things I did not know. I am confident he is not alone and thus, I hope to help all of us be more aware as we move forward as local leaders and churches.

I have always believed the role of leading worship in churches must be one of the most challenging. Since many churches have for years borrowed marketing strategies from Madison Avenue and shifted with themes, music styles, and scheduling, an unintentional result has been that they (we) often unwittingly create a sales/customer mindset on Sunday mornings.

The mantra for customer service in the business world has often been "The customer is always right." Recently this has led to the birth of the "Karen meme" (sorry to all the nice Karens out there) that features an image of an angry, entitled woman with a particular hairstyle demanding to talk to a "manager" for any number of reasons.

I don't really believe the entitlement attitude is overwhelming among members of  local churches like ours, but the idea that as we sit in rows on Sunday mornings that all that is to come is designed for our enjoyment is very real. Thus, as we lament the growth of consumer Christianity, we must admit this is the monster we created.

Sometimes We "Hear" What Is Not Being Said Aloud

Over the past few months as churches have gathered for worship and leaders have sought to honor God and lead well, comments have offered to worship leaders that have been intended to be encouraging and constructive. In most cases they are, but there are times when what is said verbally is drowned out by what is not said, but perceived.

I imagine what worship leaders hear is similar to what pastors hear at times. For instance when a well-intentioned church member encourages me to listen to another pastor's sermon because it was "soooo good" I know that is likely meant to encourage. Yet, I often hear, "If you only preached like this guy...you'd be worth listening to." I know it is not fair, but I am just being honest. And yes, I know that is all on me as my personal insecurity leads me to often hear what is not being said.

So, in that vein, here is what worship leaders hear and what they really hear based on what I have been told:

  • "I like it when the choir leads" (which sounds like "I hate when the praise band leads.")
  • "I like it when the praise band leads" (which sounds like "I hate when the choir leads.")
  • "I love it when you sing the old hymns" (which sounds like "I hate when you sing newer choruses.")
  • "I love the new choruses" (which sounds like "I hate the boring old hymns.")
  • "When is so-and-so going to sing a solo again" (which may mean simply that "I love hearing that person sing" but often misses that "that person" only shows up for solos, does not do anything else with the church or worship ministry, is good at karaoke only, has disqualified himself/herself from standing on the stage due to other issues in life, or may not actually be someone who can sing well and will never get a solo again.)
  • "You did really well today in leading us in worship" (which sounds like "Every other week is mediocre at best.")
  • "Oh, I didn't hear the music today because I didn't get into the worship center until after the music was over." (which sounds like - "The music is optional, like watching trailers before the movie, so often I just skip that part.")
  • "The drums are too loud!" (which means either "I hate the drums" or "The drums are too loud.")
  • "When are we going to do ______ again?" - fill in the blank with whatever musical presentation, choir special, solo, production, etc. that was done years prior. (which often means - "I only like that one thing we did years ago and until we do that again, I'm not going to be happy.")
  • "When are the kids or teenagers singing on Sunday again?" (which is often perceived as being a question not related to worship, but related to viewing the Lord's Day worship as a recital or a school chorus event. Sadly, some only attend when their progeny are on the stage. This unknowingly teaches a generation that church is a platform for performance, not a family gathered weekly for the glory of God.)
  • "I love it when so-and-so leads worship." (which often sounds like "Anyone but you is better.")
  • "The livestream audio is not good" (which often means...well, that the livestream audio mix is not good, but seriously the worship leader does not need to hear this ALL THE TIME because he likely knows and is working on it. And...to state the obvious in the comments on the livestream is not helpful.)

Just about every church I know is doing their very best to honor God well through all they do together throughout the week and on the Lord's Day. This includes solid, biblical preaching and worship through music that honors God and has good, biblically-sound lyrics to songs. So, let's give the worship leaders some grace (meaning..."Give him a break people!") and remember that we are not customers, we don't need to speak to a manager, and music on Sunday mornings is not a Spotify station designed simply for our tastes and pleasure.

Also...it's probably the Senior Pastor's fault anyway, not the worship leader.

Keep Encouraging - It's Like Fuel to Our Soul

The good news is that the vast majority of the people I call my church family are truly encouraging - like Barnabas - and truly seek to worship well and live by the theme "It's not about me." May their tribe increase throughout all our churches.

As for our Worship Pastor here at our church...he is a called, licensed, and ordained man of God intent on glorifying God as a pastor/shepherd and focused on leading God's flock to the throne of grace each time we come together. I have often said that of all those I know (and I am biased) he is first a pastor and secondly a worship leader. For that I am very thankful. I pray that his next year (and those after) will not be categorized as "the worst in his ministry" but the best.


Garth Brooks, Notre Dame, and Your Christmas Service at Church

Last night while the big game for the NFL was broadcast on NBC and Hallmark was showing yet another Christmas movie, a country music superstar came out of self-imposed semi-retirement. The Garth Brooks Stadium Tour has begun and the concert recorded in the rain at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Indiana in October aired on CBS last night. The production quality of Brooks' concert was incredible. He has been known for his live shows since breaking onto the scene over two decades ago. While other country singers would stand behind a microphone in their starched Wranglers while playing guitar and belting out hits (George Strait, Alan Jackson, et. al.) Brooks would wear the wrap-around microphone that he must have either borrowed from Madonna or the Drive-Thru worker at Chick-fil-A, run around the stage or at times, pull a Bon Jovi and fly above the crowd. Brooks is an entertainer for certain.

Whether you like his music or not, there's no denying he has appeal for many. The stadium was packed. It was raining. It was cold. And while I know that post-production can do some pretty amazing things, based on tweets and reports online from those who were in attendance, plus what was seen on television, the crowd LOVED the show.

Photo credit: tncountryfan on Visualhunt / CC BY-NC

So, what does this have to do with anything related to church, Christianity, worship, or anything else spiritual?

While watching last night, I said to my wife "Brooks has the crowd in his hand. He's no evangelist, but he's evangelizing and the crowd is 'amening" their approval." I followed up with "If he asked people to come down front to make a decision, they'd come in droves." This was not a condemnation on crusades or the traditional "come down the aisle" moment in many churches. I was just noting that what we were observing in this very well produced event was something that we have seen in religious settings as well (albeit with fewer people in the crowd.)

My friend and pastor of City Church in Tallahassee, Dean Inserra tweeted as the concert was completing:

 

Dean hit the nail on the head in this comparison.

Some of you reading will be upset that I, a Baptist preacher, may seem to be condoning the message or lifestyle promoted in Brooks' songs. Well, I'm not. However, I do know the words of many of the hits he played. I like some more than others. Yet, you would be hard pressed to find anyone who actually has a radio in their vehicle, an iTunes or Amazon Music account or who has been alive for the past twenty years or so who does not know at least some of the words to "Friends in Low Places." 

Christmas at Church

No I do not recommend singing "Callin' Baton Rouge" at your Christmas Eve service. Yet, I do find some insight from this event that was on television last night. Spurred on by Dean Inserra's tweet, I recommend the following to pastors who are trying to find ways to connect with their communities during this Christmas season.

  1. Plan Well. Every community is different, so know yours. If you don't...you have more issues than Chris Gaines. Presuming you know the people in your community, plan a service that will connect with them and allow them to not only feel welcomed, but encouraged that there is a God who loves them deeply. If your service is planned for church people, you will only connect with church people (yours and those who are members of other churches.) It's easy to plan a church service for church people. Don't.
  2. Preach Clearly. Christmas sermons are sometimes the most difficult for pastors, because we (pastors) all too often try to be really creative and end up missing the point. Jesus is the point. He always is. He always must be. The "birth of Jesus" story is known by many, but don't presume it is rightly known by the crowd in your building. Some view the story of the nativity as little more than than a holiday fairy tale or myth on par with the Rudolph, Frosty, and Grinch stories. (BTW - I like all those stories and even the Charlie Brown one.) BTW - just because it's Christmas, don't leave Jesus as a baby in a manger. Get to the cross. Preach the resurrection. A little Easter at Christmas is needed by all.
  3. Provide the Familiar. Sing songs that people have heard. Is it a sin to sing "Jingle Bells"? I say no. However, sing the carols that glorify the Christ. Don't skip or ignore those. People have heard them. Many know the words. They may just sing along. The words point to Christ. Christ is the point, remember? Sing about him. Worship him with these classics. It's possible. And, as we saw with Brooks' incredible show, you don't even have to have the very best singer in town on the stage leading. You do need to be able to lead people to sing, however. In the age of performance worship and having to present the latest pop-song worship chorus, many in the room are left watching and missing the opportunity to worship with song. Vicarious worship is not the goal. The best worship leaders are the leaders who worship.
  4. Present the Decision. Don't forget to draw the net (that's an evangelism term that refers to giving people the opportunity to respond) and express to all who have attended your special Christmas Eve or seasonal service that God loves them. He sent his son. He wants to know them personally and they can receive something more than a temporal gift wrapped in paper. Life is available. Whether you allow people to respond by calling them down front, offering them a moment to meet with you following the service, giving them a link on your app to click, or a number to text does not matter. There are numerous ways to give people the opportunity to respond. Just don't leave it left undone. Otherwise, you will once again evaluate your service with your staff and say "We had a good crowd, but we're not sure if anyone made a decision and therefore, have no way to follow up." Yep - we've done this way too often.

What you don't need to have an effective Christmas service is the production budget of Garth. Don't be who you're not and don't fret that you don't have unlimited resources for smoke machines, lighting, or other effects. If you have those things, that's fine, but those are not the point when the true focus is clear.

So this Baptist preacher learned something from a country singer with hits about drinking, cheating, dancing, and a false narrative about prayer while performing on stage with a man dressed as a leprechaun at a Catholic university. 

Weird.

________________

Photo credit: tncountryfan on Visualhunt /CC BY-NC


The Grammys Are Over. And You Expected What, Actually?

The 2014 Grammys are over. When I first saw who was nominated and going to appear on The Grammys this year, I thought someone had accidentally pulled up the roster from 1986 - Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Chicago, Black Sabbath, and even Led Zeppelin?

GrammyThen, Mr. Roboto showed up and won. They may go by Daft Punk, but as any fan of Styx knows, they are really just the next generation of Mr. Roboto. (Domo arigato.)

The annual ceremony intended to honor and celebrate those who have excelled in the music industry, but left many wondering "What just happened?"

No, I didn't watch much of The Grammys. I wasn't so much a personal protest as it was the fact that our small group was meeting for Bible study and playing games and we just didn't think about it being on. (This statement makes me sound really super spiritual, but is soon negated by the fact I know the words to "Mr. Roboto", right?) The other reason I didn't record the broadcast or watch the entire presentation is that, for the most part, I'm just not a fan of the artists being highlighted. . .and I was tired and ready to go to bed. However, once our small group left, we did turn on the television just in time to see Queen Latifah oversee a ceremony where thirty-three couples exchanged rings, declared their love for each other and entered into holy matrimony. It was a spectacle for sure, and while Macklemore and performed his popular anthem for gay marriage "Same Love," couples of many varieties (heterosexual, biracial, old, young, gay, lesbian, etc.) were married before millions.

The culture shift is immense. Ed Stetzer wrote clearly about this in his excellent post from yesterday. You can read it by clicking here.

Christians are appalled, and I get it. Sin is appalling and yet, the vitriol I am hearing based on this awards ceremony from many seems to be affirming a false stereotype of Christianity as a religion of hate and anger. 

To be clear, that which was done on the stage of the Grammys was appalling. It was ungodly and worldly. In many cases, it was sinful. Katy Perry's "casting of a spell" and jumping in the fire while dancing with a broomstick illustrated anything but godliness. The performances and ceremonies of the night were mostly social statements and were strategic and intentional.

And. . .it shouldn't surprise us at all.

Without sugar-coating what is happening and white-washing sin in any way, the church is faced with a decidedly different cultural landscape than even just a few years ago. Each year the statement "It's worse than it's ever been" continues to be a banner we gather under to lament and weep, but at the same time, we often miss the reality that God is ever-present and still sovereign.

Was God at the Grammys? Well, of course He was. 

Dr. William Brown of Cedarville University stated it clearly here. . .

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The Christian Response

"What are we to do?" many cry out. 

For starters, we must be "in Christ" and live as His disciples.

That means many things, but primarily it is a calling to die to self and live for Him.

It entails loving God and others. It involves being able to discern sin, but not just the sin of others. . .and not just the "obvious" ones. It means to love in spite of sin - not overlooking it, not affirming it, not accepting it - but seeing the person, the image-bearer of God as His lovely creation in need of rescue and a relationship. 

When the "marriage" took place on the floor of the Staples Center, like many, I tweeted my thoughts. 

Screenshot 2014-01-28 22.36.51I stand by that tweet because it is true. That is why the matrimony entered into last Sunday evening would not be categorized as "holy."

This ceremony was a mockery due to the fact that a miraculous relationship created by God and defined in Scripture became little more than a social statement. Was God there? Well, He's everywhere as Dr. Brown stated, but I don't think He was invited to the wedding, per se.

It occurs to me that not only was this wedding little more than a show and a facade of that which God designed, but so too are other weddings that take place outside the limelight and awards ceremonies when God is not honored. This could be the wedding between non-believers, between a Christ-follower and one who is lost, and maybe even between those who wrongly believe themselves to be the "star" of the wedding and utilize the church as little more than a backdrop for wedding photos.

The Grammys show us that culture has shifted, but maybe not as much as some would think. Oh, it's true that which was appalling just a few years ago is not the norm, but all is not lost.

Even in a world where it appears most have forsaken biblical truth, it is becoming evident that God is raising up a generation of men and women that He will use as His ambassadors to a culture far from Him. A hunger for Truth and God's Word is growing and, while it may not be easy for all to see, rest assured. . .the best is yet to come. That's becoming clear through my small group where the vast majority of attendees are in their young twenties.

How do we respond to a culture so far from God?

With grace, love and truth. 

This much has never changed.

Maybe the more things change, the more they stay the same? Since the 1980s are now the "good old days" of nostalgia, I think I'll go listen to my "Chicago" Greatest Hits CD.


We May Have Missed An Opportunity

You know the old saying, "When opportunity knocks, open the door." It's often after the opportunity has passed by that we realize it and think, "Oops."

Missed opportunities abound and we often read the stories of these and shake our heads thinking of what could have been.

IMG_1720Last Sunday evening, we once again hosted a concert for Ridgeview High School's Band. The band director, Arnaldo Colon, is an active member here at First and serves in our worship ministry. His predecessor as Band Director, David McGuffin, is also a member here at First and prior to his retirement from the school, we hosted numerous Christmas concerts for the band.

We have been intentional in allowing certain groups in our schools and community to use our facilities at times. We continue to open the doors for these organizations when we can. However, over the years we have declared this to be a "missional expression."

MAYBE IT'S NOT MISSIONAL

When I arrived Sunday evening, I noticed that other than a few  parents of band members who also happen to be members of First, there were only a handful of church members or attenders in the building. The concert was good. The music was presented well and Christmas carols and traditional songs were perfoemed for the audience. Carols that we would sing together on a Sunday morning during worship as well as some fun songs like "Hot Chocolate" from The Polar Express and the theme from "A Charlie Brown Christmas" were also part of the program.

In other words. . .the church, for this evening, was simply a venue. The people were not here. Oh, there was a good crowd from the school. Parents, grandparents and friends came to experirence the concert. They were greatly appreciative to me for the use of our facility. Shelvin Lamb, our Worship Pastor was a gracious host for the band and others. 

All in all, it was a good concert and a fine event.

It just wasn't missional. It was just an event.

It wasn't missional in that it took place in the church's facility and the church wasn't present. I'm not saying we should have been here, preaching between songs or handing out tracts. I'm not even trying to make people feel guilty for not attending. In fact, for many who are part of the church at Fist, this was not viewed as something they were necessarily supposed to attend. 

HOW CAN IT BE MISSIONAL?

As I sat in the foyer before, during and after the concert (I was the lone usher and security on duty - I'm sure they all felt safe) I began thinking about what could've been done.

Here are some ideas that I penned during the hour:

  • Encourage small groups to move their annual Christmas party to Sunday evening, following the concert. Have the groups meet at church to attend the concert together and then go to their party following.
  • Have a group within the church (small groups again?) to bring gifts for the young men and young ladies in the band. There were about 70 students on the stage. While some have church homes, based on current trends, I'd say that most do not. Have a gift for each one with their name on it waiting for them. It doesn't have to be big, but needs to be significant.
  • Have hot chocolate available for parents and others in the foyer.  This, of course, would bother some who never want to see drinks allowed in the "Worship Center." However, since there were no church members here Sunday evening, we won't tell them that many brought their Starbucks into the building with them. We have tile floors - we can mop spills. We have dark carpet - stains will look like modern designs. It's not that big of a deal.
  • Greeters could be at each door welcoming people to the event. These don't have to be men who serve on the usher team. It could be teenagers, moms and dads and families. There's something about being welcomed upon entrance to a venue that makes one feel more comfortable. There should be a real excitement that hundreds of unchurched people (I know, some of the crowd are active in other churches and we desire they remain active, but not all are. . . and those need a good experience with the church) would enter into our facility willingly.
  • We need a photographer here. As people were leaving, numerous families would pose in front of the Christmas tree (the Chrismon Tree) in the front foyer for a family photo. We should be taking pics there and throughout the concert. Just as we did with the elementary school Christmas party last year, we take the pics, give the folks a business card with our church website on it and information on where to find their pictures. They can then go to our site and click the link to find their pictures. Who knows? They may just look at some other items on the website as well.
  • Serve the guests. This is key every time we open the doors, whether it be for a special event or on Sunday for our regularly scheduled worship services. They are guests - not visitors. They are honored guests and should be treated as such.
  • Pray. Yes, the church should be praying that this first contact event would be missional in that, even though the event is in our building, the people attending would experience the church (the people) and the One we serve through our love for them.
  • Etc. There's more, but you get the picture.

God has blessed us with a facility that can house such events. Not every church has this privilege. We must be strategic and intentional. What church wouldn't love to have an event where hundreds of lost people plan and schedule to attend? 

It's here.

This year. . .well, that's a missed opportunity.

I pray we will not miss the next one.