the fresh breath/air of the Protestant Reformation

Sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord, all the earth.
Sing to the Lord, praise his name;
proclaim his salvation day after day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous deeds among all peoples.

Psalm 96:1-3

I really don’t care to identify as Protestant, evangelical, Catholic, or whatever, but rather, as Christian. I know that even Christian carries with it some historical baggage which is not helpful, and actually distracts, not to mention, contradicts its true meaning.

But on Spotify today, while trying to scroll down to see the albums playing my favorite music artist, Johann Sebastian Bach, and being blocked from doing so by an add, I either purposefully or inadvertently hit an album which has beautiful singing (likely in German), but I lit on Bach’s chorale music, so beautiful, this album. Bach himself was a Lutheran, in a pietist Lutheran setting, one that had as an emphasis a personal relationship with Christ, or knowing Christ. I was reminded of the beautiful early Lutheran music at the time of that great Reformer and Church Father, Martin Luther.

What I identify with is the emphasis on scripture being the authority to which we appeal, while taking tradition seriously, yet subjecting everything to the test of scripture. For me that’s a breath of a fresh air. And not only lifts one’s spirits, but brings new life, so that a song of praise and thanksgiving to God is indeed appropriate. It is God’s word, scripture, the essence of which is the gospel, God’s good news in Christ, which indeed is transformative. For us and for the world, someday to fill the new earth after the final judgment and salvation, in and through Jesus.

worshiping God

…a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.

John 4:23-24

Worship of God is a theme in Revelation (see here, for example). It got me to thinking. I wonder just how much we truly worship God.

Worship is ascribing worthship to something. In scripture and Christian tradition, only God is worthy of worship. Although sometimes that language has been used for lesser objects. In the Great Tradition, veneration is giving special honor, even reverence to objects not worthy of worship. I am among those who would not be comfortable joining other Christians in doing that. But we naturally do that to some extent to those we highly esteem. This is set in certain Christian traditions for “saints.” Of course God alone is worthy of full, complete worship. And really, that can come natural too, as we seek to give our full attention to God: who God is, and what God has done.

When we are talking about God, we are referring to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We worship the Father in and through the Son by the Holy Spirit. But we can worship all three Persons of the Trinity, since God is one, and the Father, with Jesus and the Spirit are, or we might say is God.

To worship God might come naturally so to speak, as we focus on God. Of course it is what we call supernatural, beyond nature, since we need the help of the Holy Spirit to do so. We can only begin to gather in our minds and hearts just who God is by the Spirit. Then we worship God in our hearts through song and ascriptions such as we find in Revelation, the Psalms, and elsewhere in scripture.

Worship includes offering ourselves to the One who is deserving of everything. By creation and redemption, as well as simply who God is, God is worthy. We join in this eternal singing and song, and giving of our lives, in and through Jesus.

the power of poetry and song (the Christ-kenosis/self-emptying hymn)

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:1-11

In Jeff Manion’s message to us this past weekend in the series “Choosing Joy Under Pressure,” through the book of Philippians, entitled “The Servant Mindset,” he touched on the power of song. Yes, most Bible scholars believe this was a hymn which Paul included in this letter. And that we do well to play that song again and again in our heads until it becomes the theme to which we live.

Notice that although it’s about Jesus, it is to be applied by us who are in Jesus in our individual lives, and in the context of the letter, especially in our relationships with each other. We are to take on ourselves the same humility and servant mindset that Jesus took on himself.

This doesn’t mean trying to perform great heroics. Of course what Jesus did in the eyes of the world was exactly the reverse of that. There was nothing more humbling than a cross, probably not much higher from ground level than one would stand, likely hung naked, and just outside the city where the populace could walk by, say anything they wanted to say, and spit in one’s face.

Jesus’s attitude was one of humility, service, and obedience. It ended up being great since he stooped to the greatest depths possible: God becoming human, and then subjecting himself as a man to the death of the cross, all out of love, as a servant. And for our salvation, but in this context specifically as the example we’re to follow. And therefore God raised Jesus to the highest heights, giving him the name above every name, so that all might bow the knee to him.

We do well to read both what precedes this poem, and what follows, the context, because this poem is followed by a “therefore” as well as the call to value others above ourselves.

But again, this needs to be the kind of song playing in our heads. Which acclimates us over time to grow in the depths of the life we’re to live in Jesus. Toward each other, and toward the world. In and through Jesus.

Advent and the joy of salvation in King Jesus

In that day you will say:

“I will praise you, Lord.
Although you were angry with me,
your anger has turned away
and you have comforted me.
Surely God is my salvation;
I will trust and not be afraid.
The Lord, the Lord himself, is my strength and my defense;
he has become my salvation.”
With joy you will draw water
from the wells of salvation.
In that day you will say:

“Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name;
make known among the nations what he has done,
and proclaim that his name is exalted.
Sing to the Lord, for he has done glorious things;
let this be known to all the world.
Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion,
for great is the Holy One of Israel among you.”

Isaiah 12

We look forward to the day to come when not only our salvation, but the salvation of the world will be complete. That in significant part is what Advent is all about. We celebrate the coming of “the Messiah, the Lord,” (Luke 2:11), King Jesus. The salvation that has arrived, that is present, and that is yet to come is in and through King Jesus.

This is in large part what we celebrate: Yes, God making himself/God’s Self known in and through Jesus, by the Holy Spirit. And the salvation that comes from that. We are taken up into the very life and love of the Trinity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. And we can say that very life and love has come down to earth at our Lord’s first coming and is destined to make everything right and all things new when heaven and earth become one when King Jesus returns.

In the meantime, we are indeed to drink from the wells of salvation from the Father’s gift of the Holy Spirit in and through Jesus (John 7:37-39). As we witness to the world through our faith, our words, and through song: the coming of King Jesus.

wanting to hide (the Psalms)

I like the Psalms for a good number of reasons, one of the primary reasons being that they well express the gamut of human experience. And in the form of worship as well as sharing one’s heart before God. There are those times when I especially know I don’t have it all together. When I especially feel my brokenness and perhaps want to do little more than hide.

The Psalms teach us that we can and therefore should come to God with our brokenness, with all that we are. We express our true thoughts and feelings to God, not holding back, and in that context we become acclimated to a life lived in the context of both God’s presence and will as those who are his people.

Not everything in the Psalms is G-rated, in fact the Psalms as a whole definitely are not. Even PG, and I’ll add PG-13 is a stretch for some of it. One is allowed to express it all, as Eugene Peterson suggested with reference to his own rendering in the Message, with arms flailing, so to speak. That doesn’t mean that it’s all good. But it’s surely part of working through a process whether it’s of grieving and lamenting, to risk subjecting the Bible and our reading of it to modern categories. We do well to regularly read it, perhaps even to sing it, so that the rhythm and beauty, all of it somehow appropriately becomes more and more a part of who we are, at least in our expression to God. Of course the Psalms are considered the hymnbook of Israel and the church does well to add its “songs” to the other hymns and songs sung. Jesus knew the Psalms and surely regularly recited them. (An excellent book on the Psalms.)

A good example of what I’m trying to get at in this post is found in Psalm 55. I’ll quote a small part of it here, and I encourage you to read the rest. And to get into the habit of reading the Psalms, maybe daily, five a day so as to read through them each month.

I said, “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove!
    I would fly away and be at rest.
I would flee far away
    and stay in the desert;
I would hurry to my place of shelter,
    far from the tempest and storm.”

From Psalm 55.

Christmas carols

Christmas carols are a wonderful part and tradition of Advent season. The words speak powerfully about the reason for the season, Jesus. We are taken back in time to those wonder filled days, when the Messiah, God’s Son was born into this world.

It is good to dwell on the words. To really sing these carols. The ones we sing year after year have endured for good reason. In poetic word and song they help us reflect on the Incarnation, when the Word became flesh, God becoming one of us, in the person of his Son, Jesus. When the hope of the world, the Messiah was born.

It is next to impossible for me to pick a favorite. I have several favorite carols, though for different reasons I can well say I love them all. But if I have to choose a favorite, I’ll choose this one:

What Child is This?

What Child is this who, laid to rest
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing;
Haste, haste, to bring Him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

Why lies He in such mean estate,
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christians, fear, for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you.
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

So bring Him incense, gold and myrrh,
Come peasant, king to own Him;
The King of kings salvation brings,
Let loving hearts enthrone Him.
Raise, raise a song on high,
The virgin sings her lullaby.
Joy, joy for Christ is born,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

William C. Dix

Let’s sing the Christmas carols. Maybe just choose one, or one at a time to sing for awhile. Yesterday someone shared enduring lines from “O Little Town of Bethlehem”, after which I sang that for a time.

As we remember the awe and wonder of this season in Jesus and his birth.

praise to God

When a heavenly host of angels appeared to the shepherds on the night Jesus was born, they were said to praise God, I would imagine in loud but hauntingly beautiful chorus, saying:

Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.

Luke 2

One of the wonderful aspects of Advent season are the Christmas carols (another good link, this one getting into the songs). Wonderfully written- which is why they are sung year after year, tunes forever embedded in us with words recalling God’s great act of love in becoming part of his creation through the Incarnation when the Word became flesh. One of the strengths of the content of lyrics is that they help us remember what God has done in Jesus. This is what true praise to God involves: a recounting of what he has done. From that we can begin to sense and enter into what God is doing in the present, as well as anticipate in “hope” what God will do in the future, according to his promises in Jesus.

Worship can be taken up with just the greatness of God himself, who God is. While praise, which actually can and should be a part of, or accompany worship is more like high commendation, in this case the highest, to one for their great and good works.

Some of my most meaningful times in spirit are when a song just seems to come to me, and I begin to sing it, or sing with it. This works alright at work, my singing drowned out by the humming roar of all the machinery.

The best lyrics help us focus on God and on what God has done in Jesus. Of course other lyrics can be meaningful and good in different ways. We have the Hebrew song book, the Psalms which gives us clear indication of that. Psalms of lament and even complaint, along with the psalms of praise. We need both, actually. I would agree with Michael Card on that, which goes along with the Great Tradition of orthodox Christianity, and most importantly lines up with the testimony of scripture. But praise to God, which actually is called a sacrifice offered, should be something we are learning to practice, becoming more and more a part of us. I confess in my own life, which often is played in minor key along with major at intervals, such has been at best lacking, overall, and at worst absent.

The Christmas hymns we call carols can help us reflect on the wonder and beauty of what God has done in becoming a helpless little baby for us and for the world.