The Unintentional Idolatry of “10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord)”


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I like to think I listen to really good music–and I do. My most recent listens have been Sufjan’s Carrie & Lowell, Mozart’s Requiem, Miles Davis’ A Kind of Blue, Fugees’ The Score, and Taylor Swift’s 1989. But I also have a secret, closeted (until now) habit of listening to Christian Praise music on my own.

One of my favorite more recent songs is called “10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord)” by the Australian artist Matt Redman (video below). We sing it at my church, and I listen to it on my own. It’s one of the better contemporary worship songs out there, but there is a grave grammatical error in the song that, for at least me, colors my experience of this song in a distracting way. Here’s the chorus of the song:

Bless the Lord oh my soul, Oh my soul
Worship his holy name
Sing like never before, Oh my soul
I’ll worship your holy name

Do you see it? Yes, there is an odd tense change from present imperative verbs to a future verb in the last line, but that’s not what I’m talking about.

Rather, it’s that the first three lines are speaking to one’s soul about God, and then it says “I’ll worship your holy name”. Who is being spoken to? Throughout the chorus, the singer is speaking to their own soul, telling their soul to worship God, and then it jumps to second person.

I know, I know, the song’s intention is to turn to worshipping God, but grammatically, it is offering this worship to one’s own soul. And I think this matters for several reasons.
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Wolterstorff: the liturgy & worship of lament [quote]


job-silohetteLast week, I was in Michigan again for my seminary program. Tomorrow I will post some reflections on my time there. Today, I want to offer you this amazing post-length excerpt by Nicholas Wolterstorff from an amazing piece of his called, “Trumpets, Ashes, & Tears” (pdf):

I suggest that there is yet one more thing which the believer experiences in his life of dispersion and which he brings with him to the liturgy….

As we human beings travel through life we experience pain and suffering–in part our own, in part that of others. Some of this pain and suffering is non-innocent suffering; it is punishment for, or the consequence of, moral evil. But not all of it is that.

The suffering of the Israelites in the brickyards of Egypt was not the consequence of their sin, nor was the suffering of the Jews in the camps of Auschwitz. Some of the suffering of our world even resists our seeing it as the counterpart of anyone’s sin–the accidental death of a child, for example.

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Some random Beatitude snippets | Matthew 5.6,11-12


“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”
Matthew 5:6

So encouraging. This gives me hope.

“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Matthew 5:6

That’s interesting. He hasn’t mentioned any other Jewish or biblical things. Why root this encouragement in a random reference to the prophets?

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

Yep. The gospels depict Jesus as God. | Matthew 28.1-10


After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
Matthew 28.1-10

Wow.  This here clearly says that they worshipped Jesus. And he does not at all correct them or steer them to worship elsewhere. This is in stark contrast to the angel in Revelation.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

Donald Miller is just plain wrong about church. But it’s not his fault.


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Donald Miller, author of Blue Like Jazz, started a little kerfuffle last week when he wrote about how he doesn’t really go to church any more. He doesn’t learn much about God through sermons, and he doesn’t connect with God through songs. Church just doesn’t connect with him in any way and doesn’t fit within his own learning style, which is far more participatory. He says the Church is all around us and in believers so he feels free to “have church” in the way(s) that most connect him to God and others.

Well, this caused quite the backlash. He wrote again a couple of days ago in response, but it seems that most people still really disagree with him.

But here’s the problem: Donald Miller is absolutely right in everything he says if he still insists on calling himself an “Evangelical”, or at least using that as his frame of reference.

If you consider yourself an Evangelical in any traditional sense, and you’re looking at Donald Miller’s church practices with dismay, well then welcome to your future–the logical conclusion of your theology and how you’ve practiced church for a few generations now.
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Father Abraham, had many sons; and many sons, Moses did not.


Rothko-9-White-Black-Wine-1958So…I had my mind blown this past week.

I’m taking this class on the idea of “worship” in all its dimensions, and we read a few pieces that gave me an entirely new framework to understand the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, and how God works in those stories. And no, I’m not exaggerating.

In Genesis 15, God makes a covenant with Abraham, and it’s a little weird, mainly because it’s entirely on God. He promises that he will be Abraham’s God. He promises he will give him many descendants. He promises to make those descendants a blessing to the world. And, most importantly, he takes all of the potential negative consequences of breaking the covenant on Himself. In essence, he makes this covenant with Himself on Abraham’s behalf.

What’s Abraham’s part in this whole thing? “He believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness”, the text says (and he’s supposed to circumcise his kids as a visible mark of his belief). This is one of the earliest and clearest depictions of the unconditional grace-driven nature of God’s relationship to humanity and the world–a relationship that would later be called “The Gospel”. In fact, the Apostle Paul would look at this moment in Genesis and say:

Just as Abraham “believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” so, you see, those who believe are the descendants of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, declared the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the Gentiles shall be blessed in you.” For this reason, those who believe are blessed with Abraham who believed.

Okay….so what?
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Why do we hate our bodies so much?


Originally, I was going to entitle this post, Worship, Bodies, and the Economics of Self-Loathing. But, in the interest of readability and trying to seem less intense (and douche-baggy), I’ve changed this to the above title. But still, as that original title implies, there’s a lot here on this topic that I have to say–and may, at some point. But for now, I just wanted to give some musings and thoughts I’ve been having.

I went to a conference a couple of weeks ago put on by a group of artists called Bifrost Arts, and it was on “Liturgy, Music, and Space”. While there, I attended a workshop on the use of our bodies in worship. I was struck at the immense beauty that the Bible offers as it pertains to our embodiment. Our bodies are essential instruments in the worship and life of God. Heck, it’s essential to our very redemption as God Himself took on a body to save us.

And yet, very few of us engage our bodies in those most meaningful of spheres of life, especially when it comes to our spiritual existence. That blasted dualism of our world that elevates the “spiritual” above the “physical” pervades even those most passionate and dedicated of believers in Jesus. We often see our worship merely as a process of dropping immaterial ideas into our immaterial selves to help stir up immaterial emotional responses. And then we wonder why our embodied actions and obedience don’t follow. Could it be that we need to preach the Gospel to our bodies as well?

As I was thinking about this, I was forced to ask: Why do we hate our bodies so much?
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Unceasing Worship (a liturgy)


[photo by p*p on flickr]

[This was a liturgy I delivered at my church this past Sunday as we continued our series from Luke called “conversations with jesus”.  Here is the audio from the message that followed this opening liturgy.  Much of this opening material I stole from the incredible book Unceasing Worship by Harold Best]

Greeting and Preparation

Leader: The Lord be with you.
People: And also with you.

Hello, my name is Paul, and I want to welcome you Liberti Church. Liberti is a community of individuals still trying to figure out this Christian faith we’ve found ourselves in. And if you’re around here long enough you’ll see that we all do this to varying degrees of imperfection, more often than not. So, whether this is your first time here, or you are firmly rooted in this community, I hope that your time here today is meaningful; that you feel warmly welcomed and that you are able to experience the God we love in a tangible, real way.

In a few moments we’re going to stand and do the whole traditional, super structured, church thing. We’re going to read things back and forth, say them together, sing some songs, stand up, sit down, stand up again, say hello to one another and listen to a sermon. It’s easy to look at all this and begin to think that all these trappings and movements are what it means to be a Christian; that this is the substance of our faith. It’s easy; after all, we can see, observe, and measure our participation of these things.  But that’s not why we do this.

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Somebody Redeem this NOW!


Monday I showed how someone could take some bad Christian culture and redeem it to truly honor God.  Well, thanks to Andrew Vogel, a good friend and former classmate, whose comment showed me another video that really needs to be redeemed, remixed, or just removed.  Here’s the video.  If anyone has any ideas, I’m all ears.  Big.  Floppy.  Ears.  Somebody get some GaGa in this thing.

Of Liturgy, Communion, and Relationship [a liturgy]


[This weekend, I had the privilege of helping lead the prayers and liturgy at my church. I thought I would post my manuscript up for all to read and take part in as well. I hope this blesses you to read as it blessed me to write.]

Greeting and Preparation

Leader: The Lord be with you.
People: And also with you.

Hello, my name is Paul, and welcome to Liberti: South Philly. We are a community of people–people with struggles, doubts, addictions, and frustrations–who are still in the process of figuring out what it means to believe in this God we believe in, and relate to Him and others in a way that reflects that belief. This may be your first time here or your hundredth, but either way we want to welcome you all and we hope that your time here today is meaningful.

The part of the Christian faith we will be talking about today is that of community and relationships. Most likely all of us in here have our own sets of insecurities, uncertainties, and baggage concerning this topic. Our relationships seem to be the area that can frustrate us like no other; the area that it appears no amount of mere intellectual knowledge can change. It is often the source of our greatest joys, our deepest sorrows, and our most profound change.

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Dancing, Pride, & Sanctification


[photo by az. from Flickr]

Last night, I went swing dancing.

And it was amazing.

I hadn’t gone ballroom dancing (of any kind) in a while. I used to do it a lot more. Ever since middle school, I’ve been a pretty good dancer (believe it or not). In high school for a summer, I was even part of a community dance troupe, so I’ve done most all of the throwing girls in the air over my shoulders, around my back, and catching them in mid-jump — you know, all that stuff. At one point I was picked out of my school choir as one of the few people that would do the “more advanced” swing dancing moves in front of the choir in a concert we gave. There I did all the pulling girls between the legs and wrapping them around the back and all that. In college, many Friday nights were spent at Dancespace, where we would get lessons in ballroom dancing and then dance the night away. It would usually be my group of a handful of us college kids and a bunch of senior citizens. It was awesome. Our particular crew usually consisted of me, several girls that were very inexperienced in dancing, and a few guys that were super shy and not very good who were talked into going against their wills.

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Proclaiming & Producing Beauty{11}


Sandorfi - KalfonariumThe next post after this will be the last in this series.  But today, we are finishing up the section on how we respond to Beauty.  As I stated earlier, there are two fundamental ways we respond to Beauty: we contemplate it, and we enjoy it.  But, within the enjoyment piece, I think there are four main ways to to that: we praise, participate in, proclaim, and produce Beauty.  Once more, our working definition is Beauty is the attribute of something that expresses complexity, simply.  It takes the loose strands in reality and weaves them together into a tapestry that out senses are able to perceive.

Now, let’s pick up right where we left off:

Proclaim

But the process is still not over. First we praise the thing as beautiful, then we participate in its beauty on its own terms. Thirdly, we proclaim it as beautiful. Proclamation is not the same as praise. I believe it was C.S. Lewis that something along the lines of this: joy in something is not complete until it is shared with someone else. Proclamation is the telling of the Beauty of this thing to someone else. It is sharing in this affection with someone else. Here we start seeing something about Beauty that will lead into our final response: Beauty longs to be known and spread – almost like a virus. It wants to inspire you to tell others about it, so that those people might participate in it as well. For creational Beauty this is done in many obvious ways like reviews and just telling someone else about it. For divine Beauty, this is typically referred to as preaching. Speaking of this God should be the natural response to someone who has praised and participated in the Beauty of God. It is out of the overflow of this in someone’s heart that they should speak. Not out of begrudging compulsion or sheer white-knuckled obedience. We tell others about the things we find most beautiful. Should this not also apply to the highest of all beautiful people – God?

Produce

This brings us to our last part in the process of responding to beauty. It’s very much tied to the previous one and has to do with Beauty replicating itself. God, in His love for us, calls us to respond to beauty not only by proclaiming beauty in word, but also producing beauty in deed. Produce is the last way we respond to Beauty. We are built in the Image of a God who doesn’t just desire, delight in, and display Beauty, but a God who also does Beauty. We, likewise, all have abilities to produce beauty. Not only that, our response to beauty is not complete until it has inspired us to likewise create beauty. Every musician in here knows what it’s like to be at a show or concert, seeing someone play the instrument that you play and suddenly having your mind swirling with musical ideas you want to try out when you get home. There’s an entire field of art history that tries and find the obscure pieces that inspired some of the greatest pieces of art we adore today. It works off the assumption that nothing that beautiful exists without inspiration before it. The longer I live, the more I am convinced that everyone has some creative ability in them. I don’t care how “uncreative” you think you are. You are built in the image of a Creator God! You have not only the ability, but I fully believe the responsibility as well to bring forth more beauty in this world and further participate in God’s “re-knitting” of the universe. Now this “creative” ability in all will look different in everyone, so don’t think you have to stick to conventional forms of “creativity”. Really, anything that makes beauty does this. It can be gardening, serving, counseling, or raising your kids, even. I would argue all those take a certain type of “artistic eye” to do them well. We all have it. Find it. Do it well. Do it often. And do it as a response to the Beauty that is around you in both God and Creation.

This also shows itself in the Christina life (and in our text) as holiness, or “doing good” as the author of Ecclesiastes puts it. Seeing the Beauty of God should inspire us to holy living and loving of others. Serving those around us in order to share with them and replicate the Beauty of God that we have seen.

Click for Manuscript Pdf

Manucscript

Click here for sermon audio

Audio

Free Anathallo Hymns Album


Apparently, today was the day that Brent Thomas of Holiday At The Sea (formerly Colossiansthreesixteen.com) decided to start his blog over (you can read why here).  So why does this warrant me writing a post?  Well, Brent was the one hosting a free album by the amazing band Anathallo.  Upon a quick glance at the new site, I didn’t see him express any intention of reposting those songs.  So, I’ll be glad to do it myself.  Here they are. Just right click the names and save:

Tracks:

Here is Brent’s old post telling the story of this album:

The Greek word anathallo means “To renew, cause to grow, or bloom again,” which is an appropriate umbrella for the band of that name. The band’s music is hard to categorize but yet familiar, experimental yet accessible and often focuses on the themes of renewal and redemption.

In 2004, the band recorded an EP simply entitled “Hymns,” a surprisingly sparse and traditional take on six hymns. The short release demonstrates the band’s loving attention to detail and the creation of ambiance and emotion, not simply through the lyrics but also the music itself. Incorporating many of the harmonies and odd instrumentations of their other releases the release, for the most part, remains true to the hymns themselves and honoring their content. The presentation is both humble and heartfelt, something missing in many “worship” recordings of late.

This was a limited release with all proceeds going to support a homeless mission. It remains out of print (and from what I understand, will not be reprinted) and therefore remains a mystery to many. I was lucky enough to purchase one of the few available copies several months ago and with the band’s permission, I am making the entire release available for download.

May these draw you nearer to Christ.  Be sure to thank the band for their generosity.


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