Posts Tagged the gospel
New City Music Conference 2015 is shaping up. We are getting registrations slowly but I fully expect 2/3 of the conference to register at the last minute. I’m so thrilled to have our line up of speakers and breakout leaders. It seems to get better and better every time we pull one of these together. If you haven’t done it yet, please check out the conference details and register at www.ncfmusic.com/conference/
Carrie Jones is the conference director this time. Carrie was involved in the 2011 conference we had here in St. Louis as the graphic designer and she created the conference notebook which was so full of information and resources that people wanted to get the notebook even though they couldn’t attend the conference. Carrie is also a long time member of NCF (@NCFStLouis) and as well as a highly qualified musician on our team.
The conference steering committee was made up of myself (@kirkwardmusic), my dad (@jcalvinward), and my long time friend, Michelle Higgins (@fast_foodie). We went out to lunch when my dad was here in March and hammered out the rough outline of who and what will be featured at this year’s conference.
I hope that you consider coming. If you are from the local region, we would love to meet you or connect again with you to be able to encourage each other in the struggle. If you are from out of town, we would to meet and connect as well and to hear what is going on in other communities. So much has happened in our nation this year that has served to break down our facades and to reveal the areas where we are divided and broken. The gospel has the power to heal communities when it is planted in soil that will let it thrive and produce fruit. Let’s live the gospel of reconciliation and justice that is available to us through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Myths are designed to prop up the false reality of oppression in a culture. How do I justify racism? Racism is justified by leaning on myths that dehumanize the ethic group that I want to oppress. How do I justify greed? Greed is justified by leaning on the myth that prosperity is a God-given right that is accessible to anyone who chooses not to be lazy.
In worship, we bring people back to the covenant and back to the gospel. The covenant, a promise that God has committed himself to redeeming his very good creation through his own sacrifice, destroys the myth of the American dream of unrestrained prosperity, self-gratification and comfort. The gospel, the good news that despite the depth of my brokenness I have been forgiven and restored to be a son and a new creation, is the antidote to the myth of D.I.Y. righteousness.
Worship the Lord of the covenant and the gospel. Dispel the clouds of doubt and fear that our culture has fed us through its mythology. Take up your cross and lose your life in order to find true life in the riches of the glory of the gospel of Jesus Christ. His kingdom is a glorious treasure so much deeper and richer than the empty promises of this world. Say “yes” to the Spirit and rejoice for Jesus reigns.
The apostle Paul wrote that if the resurrection of Jesus Christ never happened then Christians are total losers (in a manner of speaking). This is a particularly offensive thing to say especially in the world of subjective truth. Because it basically contends that we, the followers of Jesus, must be correct in our truth claims and if we are not then we are absurdly confused and misguided. This implies that people who hold to another religious affiliation are in fact wrong. It is in bad intellectual form to make such a truth claim and to assert that we don’t have the option of being wrong. I mean, can’t we all just agree to disagree?
The cross of Christ and his resurrection are pretty offensive stuff. This is one reason that I fund it surprising that so many people choose to attend a worship service only twice a year, on Christmas and Easter. These are the most offensive times to be in church! The combined concepts of the incarnation and the resurrection (throw in the atonement which can also ruffle a few feathers) and you have a pretty offensive religion. Come to church in the summer during a sermon series on finances or marriage. That’s a nice safe option. I suppose this might be why so many churches are shying away from being so preachy about the whole “Jesus lives” message. It’s easier to sell Jesus as a moral example.
Despite it’s offensive nature, the story of the resurrection must be faced by every believer in Christ and must be dealt with honestly. We might be able to disregard a few miracles here and there, but the claim that Jesus did not remain in the grave, but rose again and now lives and rules from heaven is too central to our understanding of who Jesus is and what his ministry means for us to rationalize away with our super-cool, sciency powers of logicfication. Either Jesus is a alive and is King of kings, or else he’s a loser of the highest order and anyone who drinks the kool-aid of such a loser is an even bigger loser.
So is he alive? If he lives, then he alone is worthy of our worship. If he lives, then death is no longer the unstoppable force the rules our lives. If he lives, then the power of sin is reversed and the world order has been flipped back to it’s intended progression toward a vast, multicultural wedding feast. If he lives then my own broken, ragged heart has hope for something better and more grand than the instant self-gratification promises that this world has to offer.
She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” – Matthew 1:21
Joseph and Mary were commanded to give their child the name, “Jesus” as a sign and a symbol of his appointment to the role of Messiah. The Law of YHWH clearly stated that failure to remain faithful to the covenant at Sinai would result in exile and death (Deuteronomy 28) . God’s people had strayed from the covenant and had become idolaters and oppressors (Jeremiah 2). However, the promises that YHWH had made to Abraham would not fail. He would remain faithful even when his people were not (Jeremiah 31).
Our present-day understanding of the phrase, “save his people from their sins” is a little clouded with “alter call” rhetoric. We read into it a personal application that basically says, “I will get a clean record and clear conscience.” However, this would have a much larger and more powerful meaning to 1st century Jews like Joseph and Mary. Instead of thinking of metaphysical absolution that would result in an after-life paradise they would be thinking of the salvation from the oppressive rule of Rome and the false kingdom of Herod and the return of YHWH’s presence to the Temple in Jerusalem. Salvation from sins was understood to mean the end of the curses that came from the covenant unfaithfulness. So as the Savior, Jesus would save (restore the kingdom rule of YHWH) his people (Israel, the chosen instrument of YHWH’s righteousness and justice to all the earth) from their sins (their covenant unfaithfulness to fulfill God’s purposes in the earth.) You can see this understanding of salvation especially in the songs of Mary (Luke 1:46-55) and Zechariah (Luke 1:67-79).
This means a lot to me today because I’ve been struggling a lot with sin lately. Not just my own sin (that’s definitely been a struggle), but also the power of sin all around me. That power looks like the brokenness in the community, my kids’ inability to just obey, the way that sin gets woven so strongly into our hearts and lives that it seems impossible to remove it without destroying everything else. Why does sin hold such power? Why can’t we just obey? You feel the same cry when you read the prophets. A desperate longing to see people turn from their sin and repent, to return to their Father and his gracious embrace.
The name of Jesus stands as a symbol of the zeal of the Lord to accomplish his redemptive purposes with his good creation. His name means, “No, sin will not win the day. No, death will not be the victor. No, the power of Rome and all other empires that are built on injustice and exploitation will not prevail. The curse that was laid upon Israel for her unfaithfulness to the covenant would be lifted by the mighty acts of Abraham’s son. Jesus came to fulfill the fullest expression of the covenant faithfulness that would redeem his people from the power of sin.
Come, Thou long-expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free
From our fears and sins release us
Let us find our rest in Thee
Israel’s strength and consolation
Hope of all the earth Thou art
Dear desire of every nation
Joy of every longing heart
Joy to those who long to see Thee
Dayspring from on high, appear
Come, Thou promised Rod of Jesse
Of Thy birth we long to hear
O’er the hills the angels singing
New, glad tidings of a birth
Go to Him, your praises bringing.
Christ the Lord has come to earth.
Come to earth to taste our sadness
He whose glories knew no end
By His life He brings us gladness
Our Redeemer, Shepherd, Friend
Leaving riches without number
Born within a cattle stall
This the everlasting wonder
Christ was born the Lord of all.
Born Thy people to deliver
Born a child and yet a king
Born to reign in us forever
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring
By Thine own eternal Spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone
By Thine all-sufficient merit
Raise us to Thy glorious throne.
Imagine sitting in a court room. You are the defendant. You are guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt of the crime for which you are accused and for which you will be receiving the death penalty. The representative of the jury stands while the whole courtroom waits in silent anticipation until the verdict is read: “We find the defendant ‘Not guilty'”. Instantly the courtroom, filled with your friends and family bursts into an uproar of shouts, applause and cries of celebration. The accuser, his argument rejected, is struck dumb.
Now imagine a wedding. Two people being joined together forever. The fervent prayers of the parents are being fulfilled as they see their children joined with a lover who will serve and protect them faithfully. All the fears of the past are wiped away as the pastor declares before the whole community that these separate people are now one flesh, forever united in a bond of love. The whole community of witnesses bursts into applause as the bride and groom exit, beaming with joy for how they have been loved beyond words. The whole community begins to party with music and a feast!
Imagine serving for years as a slave under and oppressive master. Your body shows the scars of beatings and your heart weighs heavy with the total lack of any hope of deliverance. Suddenly, a sound resonates clear and high through the whole countryside. It’s the blast of a trumpet declaring the that Year of Jubilee has come. No longer will you serve the wicked and oppressive master. You are free. The chains that bind your hands and feet fall off and immediately you begin to shout, dance and sing.
Imagine that you are slowly dying of a mysterious disease. Every day your body becomes more and more weak. Every moment, you feel life slipping from you and darkness overtaking you. All the time you feel choked, unable to breathe, and limp with no strength to even lift your head from the pillow. Then at the moment when all hope is lost, the healer comes into your hospital room. He takes a mysterious elixir from his bag and gives you a drink. Immediately, you feel your strength returning. Immediately your lungs fill with air. Immediately, you leap from the bed and begin to shout. You embrace the healer and shower him with kisses.
Imagine the whole nation suffering under a severe dictatorship. For years the government has been an instrument of corruption and oppression. Food is scarce. The police, a tool of the oppressor, randomly arrest people who simply disappear. The nation stands in a constant state of war with every able body forced to fight and die in service of the unjust ruler. One day, there’s a mighty battle. The just and rightful king has returned. He throws down the old government and sets up a new government that will last for all ages which brings peace and prosperity to not only the whole nation, but the entire earth. As the king takes his throne, and the crown is laid upon his head, the whole earth begins to shout and rejoice that the old era is gone and new era is dawning.
We applaud in our worship services because we have been declared innocent. We have been betrothed. We have been set free. We have been healed. The King has returned.
1 Praise the LORD, O my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
2 Praise the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits-
3 who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,
5 who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
6 The LORD works righteousness
and justice for all the oppressed.
7 He made known his ways to Moses,
his deeds to the people of Israel:
8 The LORD is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
9 He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbor his anger forever;
10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
13 As a father has compassion on his children,
so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;
14 for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust.
15 As for man, his days are like grass,
he flourishes like a flower of the field;
16 the wind blows over it and it is gone,
and its place remembers it no more.
17 But from everlasting to everlasting
the LORD’s love is with those who fear him,
and his righteousness with their children’s children-
18 with those who keep his covenant
and remember to obey his precepts.
19 The LORD has established his throne in heaven,
and his kingdom rules over all.
20 Praise the LORD, you his angels,
you mighty ones who do his bidding,
who obey his word.
21 Praise the LORD, all his heavenly hosts,
you his servants who do his will.
22 Praise the LORD, all his works
everywhere in his dominion.
Praise the LORD, O my soul.
This is a tune that we heard on Salvador’s Con Poder CD which is killer. We don’t sing Spanish tunes as frequently these days because of the changing demographics of our congregations. However, I love this tune and I wish we could do more salsa tunes. This song expresses the joy that we have in Christ Jesus, and with a groove that makes you want to dance, it fits perfectly with the content of the lyrics.
Holy Holy Holy
A classic hymn by John Bacchus Dykes and Reginald Heber. It’s a tune that Christians love to sing because it helps us get our heads clear about who God is and why we worship him: perfect in power, in love and purity. The call to worship is from Isaiah’s vision of seeing the Lord on His throne, repenting of his uncleanliness, receiving the atonement, and then embracing the call to be a servant. The hymn and the scripture go hand in hand.
Bless the Lord (Son of Man)
Tye Tribbet and GA are responsible for this arrangement. It’s a tune that you play in 6/8 time, but with a slow 4/4 kind of pulse that gives it a cool 3 over 4 feel. It’s a big guitar tune in the style of some of Michael Jackson’s cross over tunes like “Dirty Diana”. It’s a challenge to keep the tune rooted in a gospel sound instead of letting it slip into the Metalica realm. When we first started using this tune, I thought it would be too outside the norm to fit in our church, but I was surprised with how much people love it. Even my wife, who normally doesn’t like “loud” music, appreciates this tune. I think it’s because the content of the lyrics is so good, “My Strength, my Deliverer, the One who rescued me, my Hope, my Redeemer, Your love has set me free!”
Our South City site introduced this song to us. The text speaks with boldness of peace that comes during times of sorrow knowing that Jehovah sees and knows. In the context of our church (especially at South City) this song has special meaning because we have many refugees from war in our congregations. When we sing about this peace from the Lord, it’s more than a theological concept; it’s an real-life declaration. The Spirit of God is powerfully expressed when people who have every right to have their hearts filled with vengeful hatred are able to sing about how they will lay down their “sword” for the Prince of Peace.
Following a time of prayers for justice and reading the Lord’s Prayer, we will sing this traditional Congolese chorus. It’s simple a song of praise in which the congregation sings “Yahweh kumama” (Yahweh, be exalted) over and over while the leader sings phrases of adoration about God’s character. In a Congolese worship service, this song would be something that would be sung spontaneously in the context of prayer.
This is a modern hymn that my dad, James Ward, has written. It’s a kind of creed tune that states that we are justified by faith alone, but that faith is demonstrated in acts of justice and mercy. It’s a very rich tune lyrically and the melody has a wonderful shape to it. It can be a little hard to sing sometimes because of some cool key changes, but it never fails to drive home the point. Returning to the Isaiah 6 theme, this song is the “Here I am Lord, send me” response to the gospel. It’s nice to end our worship set with a missional tune like this because we go from singing right into announcements and the offering which are all about opportunities to express our faith by sacrificing our resources, our time, our gifts, and our energy.
Were You There?
This song will be sung during the Lord’s Supper when we remember the power of the cross and the resurrection. This tune is a traditional spiritual that has become a fixture in hymnals all over the world. I love the turn at the end of the tune from “Sometimes it causes me to tremble” to “Sometimes I feel like shouting, ‘Glory!'” As we remember the grief and the pain of the cross, it’s not just a time to mourn, but it’s also a time to rejoice that Jesus is risen. The question of “were you there?” is not just a reference to spiritual union with Christ, but it’s also a song of consolation to the slaves who composed it. Jesus, God made flesh, suffered unjustly at the hands of oppressive men. The song asks, “Can you relate to his suffering?” Being there at the cross, for the slave, was a matter of trusting God’s sovereign justice that would not allow the innocent to suffer without the promise of vindication on the 3rd day.
The eternal muckraker/prophet (and my former youth leader), Anthony Bradley, has been sharing his excitement on Facebook about a new book that’s coming out called, “Hipster Christianity.” Anthony wrote a response over at World, and this is the opening paragraph:
Young evangelicals have made their initial descent into urban areas all over America, bringing their hipster culture and paternalism toward minorities along with them. Brett McCraken’s upcoming book Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide (to be released in August) presents an overview of these baby-boomer hipster children and their vision for Christianity (see Susan Olasky’s short review here). Writers like McCracken and Soong-Chan Rah remind us that the hipster Christian movement may not be as cutting-edge and progressive as it sounds. Instead of avoiding minorities—as suburbanites are often charged with doing—hipster Christians are simply colonizing them.
So where does my church, New City Fellowship and the community of NCF churches that began in the late 60s relate to this new “Hipster” brand of Christian culture? The article by Soon-Chan Rah that he refers to actually hits the nail on the head for me. The “emergent” and “hipster” culture seems to be a product of the white mainstream and is more or less off-the-radar of other cultures. At NCF, we certainly have hipsters and we attract them because of many of our core values (justice, reconciliation, sonship) and the counter-cultural attitude that is the product of those values. I myself am guilty of many hipster stereotypes (I dig the arts, I like to read, I’m fascinated by Swedish design and I’m love ironic humor.) I’m even guilty of relocation into a black neighborhood, which Bradley’s article condemns as paternalistic.
For NCF, I feel like we are a little outside the normal discussions of mainstream church trends. Maybe we are just a quintessential ex-hippy, social-justice church, but I feel that NCF is not as much a part of this trend toward hipster Christianity. I have friends who have joined our church who are total hipsters who have been in emergent churches in the past. They come to NCF and find that a lot of the battles that they were fighting in there emergent camps are non-issues here. As a “Reformed” church, we have always had grace over and against legalsim as our foundation. We’ve also been pursuing the call to justice and the present reality of the kingdom long before Shane Claiborne ever met Mother Teresa. Paternalism is a real problem, but it’s something that at NCF we stare in the face and talk openly about. We reject the white-middle class attitude of being the saviors of the world in favor of incarnational ministry that reflects the attitude of Christ described in Philippians 2. I know that it sounds like I’m blowing our horn pretty loud, but I just want to say Bradley’s concerns are something that NCF churches are not oblivious to.
Hipsters, like Boomers, and every other culture are prone to sin patterns that need to be reformed by the gospel. Hipsters also need to be in relationship with people who are not Hipsters in order to have the benefit of seeing the gospel realized in cultures and attitudes that are different from their own. The Spirit of God is alive in the Word and it’s bringing conviction to the hearts of many young whites who might have sinful intentions, but the Spirit is not restrained by those weaknesses. Maybe all these “colonizing” hipsters who are returning to the city will move in next door to a Christian African American family who will teach them brand new things about Jesus that will renew their mind in brand new ways. Maybe as hipsters pursue justice, they will meet Christian refugees whose sincerity of faith and belief in the supernatural will show them that irony and intellectualism can be pretty depressing and lame. Every culture has flaws which is why we need reconciliation so badly.
Are you a hipster? Does anyone really like to be so explicitly labeled?
What do you think about New City Fellowship? Is it a hipster church? A hippy church? Or an anomaly?
This morning was the first day of my new summer schedule. First, I headed over to the church to lead a few songs and give a talk to the summer ministry teams. This week, the team is made up of high schoolers from Franklin, TN and Chicago, IL. We had a good time together. We sang Jesus My Great High Priest, I Got My Feet Shod and Mambo Sawa Sawa. My talk is based on Micah 6:8. It asks, how can we worship God authentically, with really meaning and purpose? Justice, Mercy and Humility. I’ve been doing talks with the teams since last summer, and I’ve struggled to keep it relevant to high school kids. I am a “head-in-the-clouds” kind of guy (my wife often grows weary of my verbal processing). So, it’s hard for me to communicate with the texting generation. LOL!
Ben Church is working with us this summer as a music/work project intern. In the mornings, he’s a music and in the afternoons he’s… I don’t know… a brick layer or something. Ben is heading up a group of InterVarsity students in leading worship for our summer tutoring. (I think it’s so cool how all these ministries feed off each other and interface so well.) I have tried to stay in an advisory role. I helped them with their first rehearsal on Friday, and I’ve been a sounding board for Ben, but tomorrow, they will not have me around. They are doing a great job! It’s been very cool to work with them. I love the excitement and motivation of college students.
After the tutoring worship time, Ben and I did a bible study with two of the IV guys who are some of the leaders in the worship band, Eric and Jake. Today, we talked about the nature of drawing near to God. The picture that scripture paints is that drawing near to God is completely contingent on hi drawing near to us. As always, it’s all an act of grace! The tabernacle worship was a gift from God that was the means by which he allowed his people to draw near to him. It was the only way. In the New Testament, Jesus fulfills and explodes the tabernacle worship system into a call to all the nations to draw near to God in worship. He became The Way to worship; he is the Priest, the Temple and the Sacrifice.
So, this summer, I’ll be taking my day off on Fridays. It’s a little extra work for me, but I love it! It takes me back to my music intern days at NCF-Chatt.
It happens to every worship leader or pastor probably every Sunday. You are preparing to lead or preach and thoughts or emotions begin to race into your heart.
“Why are you pretending to be such a ‘good Christian’? Don’t you know that you are a total hypocrite? Don’t you remember what you were thinking earlier today? How can you stand up in front of these people and assume this place of honor when you know you are a fake?”
Sometimes the accuser goes after your gifts.
“Your guitar sound awful today! Why didn’t you practice more? Ugg, that note was so flat! You are embarrassing yourself; just quit before things get worse.”
These are the work of spirits and your own sin that are waging war against you. They want to fill your head with lies so that you become so paralysed with shame or fear that you fail to trust in God’s power and you begin to look at yourself. Fortunately, we have the countless examples in scripture of how God’s children fail to reject these lies and yet He is gracious and patient. Think of Abraham’s lie about Sarah to Pharaoh, Israel’s response to the spies report of Canaan, or the disciples scattering from Jesus after he was arrested. Fear and shame are the scorched earth of a demonic campaign to usurp the good, gracious promises of our loving Father.
As a worship leader, when these lies coming rushing into your head, you can only fall on the power of God to fight the battle. If we look at our own resources to fight the battle we can lose our courage and like the army of Israel in the face of the warrior Goliath, we tremble in fear. If we fix our eyes on the power of our Redeemer, who is mighty to save, who has been faithful in the past to be our refuge and strength, then we will be like the young David who faced the power of the enemy without the King’s armor because he had the protection of the one true God. David was able to remember how God had delivered him from the bear and the lion and that was the power of his faith. Every Sunday, we practice the Lord’s Supper so that we can also look back and remember God’s faithfulness and find the power, not in our hands, but in the Rock of our Salvation.
Spiritual warfare is real. It’s not the stuff of teenage vampires or back-masking subliminal mind control. The weapons of the enemy are more subtle and more crafty. Observe how your heart responds in worship. If there is fear or shame, then you are being attacked and you need to “preach the gospel to yourself” in order to remember God’s unshakable promises. If you are feeling conviction or reverence, these might look like fear and shame, but they will ultimately lead you to the cross and in the end, to comfort and joy.
I’m preparing for this summer by looking for some good reading material for a group of interns that I will be leading in some discussion on worship leading. I was a little disappointed that in all my excellent books on worship and music, I couldn’t find any clear presentation of the role of the gospel of Jesus, our Great High Priest, in giving us access to the Throne of worship. It’s easy to list all the things that a “worship leader” needs to have: a heart for Jesus, Spirit-led voice, a pastor’s heart, the passion of a warrior, wisdom and theological training, the hands of a cheetah, guitar tone like a hot-buttered chainsaw, the list goes on and on. Those are all good things to pursue, but the foundation on which all our worship is the cross of Jesus Christ.
Nothing in my hands I bring
As fallen and idolatrous people, we can bring nothing to God that would make our worship acceptable in His sight. One of the most frightening stories in the bible is when Aaron’s sons bring “unauthorized” incense before the presence of God. Fire roasts them alive like Nazis in “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. The one true God is holy, holy, holy, so don’t be bringin’ no unauthorized incense up in here. Don’t fool yourself to think that you have any worship to bring to the Lord that will be acceptable. In order to come to worship on our own merits, we have to mentally reduce God into a idol that we can manipulate and then pretend and perform as if we are flawless saints. But, the truth is that God has never had any need for our sacrifices; the blood of bulls and goats can’t save anybody. The whole point of the tabernacle and the temple worship was demonstrating faith in the Lord’s mercy and grace to redeem and forgive a people who don’t deserve it. Our hands are empty when we approach God in worship.
Now, I approach the throne, and I have confidence
We can only come to worship by the blood of the Great High Priest whose blood speaks and defends us. His blood covers us, atones for our sin, justifies the wicked, and gives us confidence to come to the throne. The Blood is a sign that we have been adopted into the family as sons and daughters. Now that we are in the family, we can come in to the banquet of grace and participate in the celebration and adoration of the Father. This is good news for sinners. How many times does the enemy accuse us with our list of failures? How many times do we start to believe the lies that our effort, our emotion, our thoughts, or our heart attitude have to get right before we can sing a song of praise to Jesus. Bring your sin right out into the front of your heart in worship. Give the Lord your sins and cry out, “I am a man of unclean lips, and I come from a people of unclean lips!” When we cry out to the Father from the mire of our sin, the blood and the resurrection are the firm Rock on which we stand and the source of the new song that is placed in our mouths. It’s all the gospel from first to last.