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Communion Meditation for Holy Week: Isaiah 53:10-12

10 Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him;

he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt,

he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;

the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.

11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;

by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous,

and he shall bear their iniquities.

12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,

and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,

because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors;

yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.

The conclusion of the Servant’s song here in Isaiah begins with a statement that should jar any of us who are parents. Isaiah begins the last triplet of the song with the statement, “It was the will of the Lord to crush him”. Any of us as parents surely have a difficult time imagining this. It was the will of the Lord to crush him? We read this and we are about as confused as Abraham as he is asked to take up his one, only and beloved son and sacrifice him on the mountain. It is an unfathomable action for a parent. And yet Christ relationship to God the Father goes much deeper than the parent/child metaphor can communicate. The three members of the Trinity have eternally been in perfect fellowship and communion. A fellowship so deep and abiding, the best of our human relationships can simply stutter in their description of the Trinity’s oneness. But Isaiah says, now, it is the delight of the Lord to crush the servant. To put him into grief. To punish him. Why? Why would the Trinity do this? Because the will of God always has something bigger in mind than we do. By punishing the servant, an offering will be made for guilt.

And yet how can this be? The servant is righteous, perfectly righteous. He has fulfilled all that Adam should have in the Garden, he has rehearsed the story of Israel, into egypt and back, through the waters of the Jordan and on to Zion, even going through Jericho on the way, and yet how can this servant be considered guilty, he is the perfect lamb? Verse 11 and 12 both point out that he is bearing the inequities, the sins of others. He is doing this so that they can be counted righteous. Any illusions we have about there being a difference between the old and new testaments are blown away by the prophet, who says that the servant’s sacrifice will be the basis by which the many, the church of all time, are reckoned as righteous.

This is why the Trinity is willing to take on this radical separation, this punishment. It was for the joy set before Christ that he endured the Cross.

Isaiah’s final stanza here includes one last thing worth note. He speaks of something very familiar to the people of Israel who would have first heard his voice. He speaks of offspring or seed. The people of Israel knew a little bit about this. Their land holdings were based on their position as the seed of one tribe or another. Their identity was wrapped into this sort of thing. And yet, Jesus the second Adam, the great seed of Abraham, the son of Man, did not have any children. Here Isaiah points us to something big, bigger than we can imagine. He shows us that the suffering servant’s death has bought him a seed, not of flesh but of faith. This death is the means by which a great spoil is divided among the many. The Lord divides the spoil the Servant is due among those who he purchased. It is as if the servant, Christ, has broken open the piñata and set his seed loose to pick up the candy for the age to come.

That is the picture that the Lord sees. Not simply the crushing of the servant but the spoils of his victory. The seed, a people that is to come. A seed bound together, not by their righteousness, but by the righteousness bought for them with the flesh and blood of a perfect lamb; the lamb which takes away the sins of the many. It is on this flesh and blood that we prepare to feast on now.

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The Great Triduum

This evening begins the highest of all Christian Seasons; The Great Triduum which culminates on Easter. These three days (Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Vigil of Holy Saturday) are the most somber of times for the church. They recollect Jesus last supper with his disciples and his subsequent arrest, trial, and execution. Many people choose to fast from the time of the Lord’s Supper on Thursday until after the Resurrection Service Sunday morning.

Robbert Weeber sums up the Triduum well.

For Christians there is no time throughout the entire Christian year that is more crucial than the three great days. These are days to be set aside to enter into a worship that is the source of our entire spiritualitya moment in time that defines all time for Christians, a moment in time that is the very sum and substance for our spirituality for every season, every week, every Sunday, and every moment of every day.

Ancient Future Time, page 124

My Love/hate Relationship with my Yard…a metaphor part 2

Last time I talked about my yard, I spoke of the struggle I have seeing the big picture as I stare at the details. That’s not the only thing running through my head as I mow.

I also absolutely love to mow the yard. It is one of the only things in my life that is measurable and achievable. One of the great difficulties of a minister is struggling with the fact that there is very little, if any, objective measuring stick to my work.

When I was in management with Starbucks, they had a very strong system of objective accountability. If you had good labor to cash ratios, if you generated a proper number of transactions per half hour, if your secret shoppers worked out well, you were doing a good job. Even when I was telemarketing, you could measure my strength – more like weakness – by the number of leads I was turning into sales. All of us, my self included (maybe foremost), love to know we are doing a good job. We love to exceed expectations.

As a minister, there is simply no objective measurement of ministry. Jeremiah was called to a people who wouldn’t listen and wouldn’t convert. Jesus didn’t have great numeric success. Furthermore, Jesus own disciples didn’t understand his mission and scattered at his arrest. If we measured the breadth or depth of Christ ministry…he was not a huge success.

So there must be something else.

But even me searching for something else betrays a certain idolatry. I worship success. That’s why I love to mow so much. When I am done, I sit on my porch with a beverage and take it all in. I have mowed this yard. Those blades of grass have to submit to me, Lord Justin of the Push-mower! I can see what I have done, and I take comfort in it.

In Luke chapter 10, the disciples return from their mission that Jesus sent them out on. They are excited that they have accomplished so much in Jesus name; they even boast to Christ that the demons obey them. When they mentioned Christ…of course.

Instead of responding with a round of “attaboys” Jesus subtly chides them and me. He says, “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

The disciples wanted to measure their ministry by what they had done. I want to measure my ministry by the things I have done, what I have accomplished. But Jesus roundly refuses to allow for this.

Do not rejoice that your ministry is effective, or not. Do not rejoice that your preaching is good, or not. Do not rejoice that people say really nice things to you around noon on Sunday, or not.

Rejoice that I love you. Rejoice that I love you whether or not your church is growing. Whether or not you are the greatest preacher. Whether or not you are asked to speak at big conferences.

Ministry, true/gospel ministry, must grow out of our acceptance of the Gospel. My ministry is pleasing to God, so long as it is born out of my understanding of the greatness of my sin and the even greater-ness of my redemption. If ministry flows from this in my life, my ministry won’t need any sort of objective goals or measurements.

Now if I could just get this through my thick skull.

Worship & Theology, post 5: This thing is worse than Swine Flu!

So having set the table, its time to dig into the steak.

Our services of worship have gone down hill. If we were to point fingers, and I don’t intend to; we could point to Finney and Darby, but I won’t. Suffice it to say that what passes as worship music today is failing.

And it is not that it is not good music. In fact the opposite is the case. Never have more people been in the full employment (or support) of the church in the area of music.

There are more professional and professional caliber musicians serving the church with less theological music being written. We have substituted musical excellence for excellent music.

What I mean by that is that we have sacrificed content for style. Our music is good. It is popular. There is little difference between U2 and some of our more popular worship groups. That is no slam on U2, it is a compliment.

The problem is that we have focused so hard on the style and attracting people to worship that we have abandoned that which is just outside our range of vision, God.

A few weeks ago, everyone was scarred that the half of the world’s population was going to die of Swine Flu. Surgical masks in hand, people braved mass-transit. Armed with super-mega-antibiotics people took to the streets hoping not to be victimized by this pig-faced killer. But it was a lot of hype and not a lot of fall out. It was more bacon and less epidemic and apocalypse. Am I guilty of the same thing? Am I making a pandemic out of a minor issue? Is this Swine Flu or simply a strain of Flu called H1N1?

Lets take a look. The following are the top songs from the Christian section of iTunes by downloads. The first is “God in Me” by Mary Mary. Here are the lyrics:

Mary Mary Lyrics

Seriously, I can’t make this up. But lets be fair the next song was by famous worship leader David Crowder. It’s called How He Loves.

Lyrics | David Crowder Lyrics | How He Loves Lyrics

This is much better, but there is still some significant problems. Did you catch the line about heaven meeting earth like a sloppy wet kiss. I’m sorry, is this the transcendent God of the universe or Brad Pitt in a romantic comedy?

The third most downloaded song is Matthew West’s “The Motions”:

Lyrics | Matthew West Lyrics | The Motions Lyrics

OK. At this point I need to stop.

I don’t want to sound negative and like everything is awful and bad. I am not trying to say that everything that doesn’t meet my select standard of theology fails.

What I do want to point out is the extreme lack of any kind of theology whatsoever. It is not as if I object to these songs out of my theological vantage point. They have no theological vantage point.

It is also not that I object to these songs because they sound too much like God is my girlfriend. There is theological justification of that style of worship as made clear in the book of Song of Songs.

Here is the point that I am making, and to be pointed that I am putting to you Rich: The music behind these songs is relatively good. The problem is theological. We have to abandon notions of musical excellence until we can recapture the transcendence and a healthy dose of the immanence of God.

We have sacrificed our theology on the altar of music.

Links to the conversation thus far:

1 2 3 4

Worship and Theology: Boundaries and Fences; Staffs and Clefs (3)

As we embark on this conversation, it may be helpful to be clear and narrow in our scope. When anyone brings up the topic of worship, hackles go up and some people immediately take a defensive position. Rich and I want this discussion to be specific rather than vague.

Scotty Smith, a Presbyterian pastor from Tennessee, spoke at a workshop at the Gospel Coalition Confrence this past April. He was careful to distinguish between “services of worship” and “worship services”. This was a helpful distinction, but still lacks a bit of clarity. For the purpose of these blogs and this one in particular, let us set the terms Services of Worship and Worshipful services. Services of Worship are the time we spend on Sunday morning gathered together with our local bodies to express our Worship to the Covenant Lord. Worshipful service is any good and profitable thing we do which brings glory to that same Lord. These themes flow from the pages of scripture from start to finish.

While in Eden our forefathers experienced both services of worship (when they walked with God in the cool of the day) and worshipful services as they carried out the commands of the Cultural Mandate (sometimes called the Covenant of Eden or Covenant of works). They were not simply prohibited from eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, but they were positively commanded to be fruitful and multiply and push the borders of the garden outwards (Gen 1:28-30).

Later as redemptive history moved on, we find Moses and the people of Israel at the foot of the mountain. Here they are given the Ten Commandments by Charlton Heston. These Ten Commandments deal essentially with services of worship and worshipful service. The first four commands instruct Israel in her behavior towards God (or her services of worship). The next six commands deal with the way the people are to treat one another in everything from sexuality to business. Here God is dealing with their worshipful services.

Later still, Christ meets a Samaritan woman by a well. After a lengthy discussion she tries to bait him into declaring one place of services of worship illegitimate and another approved. Jesus masterfully navigates this complex and culturally loaded issue and declares that a time is coming where worshipers will offer services of worship all over the world and offer them in “Spirit and Truth”.

Paul and the writer of Hebrews pick these themes up as well. Paul speaks of our worshipful services in Romans when he calls us to present our bodies as living sacrifices. The author of Hebrews weaves the tow themes together seamlessly. He speaks of the excellencies of coming to heavenly Jerusalem as opposed to Sinai then urges us to offer acceptable services of worship. (Hebrews 12:18-29) He then launches into a treatment of our worshipful service, tying them together in chapter 13:15-16.

The scriptures even give us a peak into the world that is to come. Revelation continues the dance between services of worship with worship service, giving us pictures of both celestial services of worship and new earthly worshipful service.

So where does that leave us, to be more specific, where does this leave this series of blogs. Rich and I will be focusing on services of worship. We both understand the importance and biblical significance of worshipful services, but are not seeking to address it here. We want to deal with those specific activities that are practiced on Sunday mornings, the world over. The Church has put an emphasis on these since the earliest times. From the Hebrews author urging members not to neglect coming together, to the significance of the mass in the middle ages to the importance the reformers put on the Sunday service to the very models of ministry taught and used today, Sunday morning services of worship are a centerpiece to modern Christianity and we are seeking to address what goes on in them.

(This post is part of an on going series. You can find the previous posts here and here.)

New Blog Series: Theology and Worship Music (1)

As many of you may know, one of my closest friends is Rich Van Voorst. Rich has been an incredible friend to me since we met nearly 5 years ago. Rich is a Jazz composer and talented Saxophonist. He holds two masters degrees from USF (in Composition and Jazz preformance). On top of this he has an excellent mind for theology. He has often been my sparring partner on a number of theological issues. He reads and thinks through a ton of material.

Rich and I share a passion for our Reformed heritage and a desire to see our churches (both local and global) live out the mantra of the reformation, “Soli Deo Gloria”. We both would like to turn our hearts toward improving the quality of worship on our communities.

That being said, we come from different vantage points. Over the next few weeks,we will be corresponding over our blogs. I will be taking the premise, Worship is first theology and second, music. Rich will be taking the position, Worship is equally theology and music.

We understand there is a lot of nuance in worship discussions and we are limiting ourselves to the idea of corporate, Sunday morning worship; specifically music.

In the mean time, check our Rich’s blog at http://www.richvanvoorst.com/