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Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Did We Really Let That Fall Through the Cracks?

Worship leadership has a lot to do: planning and rehearsal the sets, working with the tech crew, working with the Pastor and others on the pastoral staff, not to mention, family, and one’s personal spiritual life. Criticisms abound and it seems like we just can’t add any more plates to keep spinning. Got that. Sometimes we really do need to stop and make sure we’re not just keeping the machine running, but that we are following biblical instructions. [Cue the picture of the Daddy madly assembling a Christmas toy 11:00 pm before Christmas morning and too busy to look at the instruction sheet.]

One thing that seems to fall through the cracks in the midst of our work can be found in Paul’s letter to the Colossians: 

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.” [Col. 3:16]

You will remember that Paul generally starts his letters with theological concerns and then transitions to practical applications in the latter part. Chapter 3 seems to begin this latter part with some specific instructions that are for all believers. Perhaps because it was directed to all believers, worship leaders might not have had the focus that the passage deserves.  Here is a quick summary:

The what: that God’s Word become central to all we are and do.
The where: in us, in our minds and hearts 
The how: as we teach [as we give instruction by word and deed] and admonish [giving warning and encouragement to remain in what the Word teaches]
The how of that: with all wisdom, that is, seeing and living from God’s viewpoint.
[how] as we sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs
[how] with gratitude in our hearts
[to whom] to God. 
When: implied all the time, whenever we sing.

I would encourage everyone to study Paul letter and especially chapter 3; however, this will not be an in depth study. Let this serve more as a broad review. Much has been written about the “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs,” so rather than try to divide songs into categories, it is better to think of this as a grouping that encompasses all songs used in worship. 

[In practice, these weren’t strict categories, since the use of “hymns” sometimes was a psalm, as when Jesus sang a hymn and went out to the Mount of Olives after the Lord’s Supper. Psalms from the Great Hallel were sung at that time during Passover and some scholars believe that Jesus sung Psalm 118; one of the verses is “this is the day the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it,” which gives deeper meaning the supper since it preceded His death.]

The greater focus should be not the categories, but focusing all of what we sing in the teaching of God’s Word with wisdom.  Here are some ways that we can do that:

1. Review the text of the songs to be used in worship and write a brief summary of what is taught and how it is consistent with biblical truth. How can we do that? Keep reading.

2. Indicate what is being taught about God, what aspect of His nature and character is highlighted, examining if what is there is consistent with that teaching throughout Scripture. Indicate where the teaching fits in the overall teachings of Scripture: 
+Does it highlight God the Father, Jesus, and/or the Holy Spirit? 
+Is the focus on Scripture itself and the truth of Scripture as the Word of God? 
+Does it teach about the church as the Body of Christ, or what the Body of Christ is to do or how to live? 
+Is it directed to God or to the Body of Christ? 
+Is it more of a personal testimony? 
+Are the texts commands to praise directed to the congregation, or praise directed toward God? 
It is important that we can actually view the various categories by song. [Some songs may cover more than one category, then, the would fit in both. Dr. Constance Cherry’s The Music Architect, has an excellent chart in helping assessing the canon of song you are using in your church.]

3. Review what you have written down. Analyzing what categories are given the most emphasis helps us see not only what we are teaching, but what we are not. Obviously, we cannot cover every area in every service, but over time we should be covering the others as we strive to relate the songs to the Word being preached.  Praising God for who He is and what He has done is important and should be a part of every worship service. At the same time, we cannot neglect teaching the whole of the Word of Christ.  At the very least, we should be doing the review everyone month. Many pastors have an evaluation time with staff to see how things are going; having the review ready for these meetings will show not only what has been done, but that there is specific intention in the worship planning to be comprehensive. 

I pray that we all would become more aware and intentional about putting the Word of Christ in the hearts and minds of the congregation in all we sing!

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

Please join me in prayer for the upcoming meeting of the SBC in New Orleans:

Father, we thank You and praise You for Who You are
and for the gracious gift of a relationship with You through Christ Jesus, Your Son.
We pray Jesus’ prayer that we would be “one as He and the Father” are one;
We pray that our agenda would be repentance, brokenness, and weeping for our sins;
We pray that we would not shred the body of Christ in the name of being right while seeking to build power and recognition for ourselves;
We pray that we do would not fight over being “reformed” or not but that we would cry out to be transformed by the renewing of our minds in You and Your Word;
We pray that we would be more concerned about Your glory than “my rights;”
We pray that our tongues would be filled with Your praise and sharing Who You are;
We pray that the world would see Your love so expressed to each other that it would draw them to Your Son;
We pray that You would grant us the boldness to continue to carry Your gospel to the whole world,
for Your glory and Your Honor
In Jesus’ Name

All reactions:
Kathy Scogin Eudy, Marvina Perez Hooper and 93 others

Friday, July 8, 2022

A Neglected Part of Worship Leadership

 Yes, there are many neglected parts of worship leadership, but here is one that we may not hear much about because it touches an area that we can conveniently allow to slide by and ignore. [I am indebted to Dr. Jessica McMillan for the genesis of these thoughts when she was asked in an interview for faculty her thoughts on a call to ministry and worship leadership. Her response has stuck with me since that day: “First, I am called to make disciples.”  What follows is some thoughts her response has spurred in me.]

Bypassing Discipleship
I have no doubt that God called me into the worship leadership roles that I have had, however, my first and foremost calling is that to be and make disciples. The Great Commission is not the Great Suggestion, but a command for all believers. Leading worship is not a substitute for it. Making disciples is more than just proclamation, though it certainly includes it. 

To make disciples we first must be one– a follower of Christ who is growing daily in an intimate relationship with God and His Word. There are no substitutes for quality time in the study and application of God’s Word and allowing His Holy Spirit to mold us into what He desires. Because there are many good resources in this area, I am going to move on to making disciples. 

The Great Commission
Matthew’s account in 28:18-20 lays the foundation for what all believers are called to do: “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’”  

I’m sure you have heard some powerful messages on this passage, so I just want to highlight a few points. [1] Jesus has the authority to command and expect obedience. [2] The word “go” here is better translated, “as you go;” the command is to make disciples. [3] the implication is that they must first hear, understand, and respond to the Good News of what Christ has done and then baptize them, that outward sign of inward change and a new life and identification with Christ. We also must continue working with them by teaching them what Christ taught and how to obey by word and example. A goal in discipleship is that our nature and character becomes more and more a reflection of Christ Himself, in our words, actions, and emotions. 

Teaching Through What We Sing
Leading worship can be one means of teaching, provided that the lyrics being sung are theologically sound, but there must be individual involvement as well. Paul’s admonition in Colossians 3:16 gives some great guidelines for worship leadership: “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.” The Word of Christ in us flows to those around us by what we sing and by example. We can teach and admonish one another through the songs we sing provided tat they focus on Christ and His teaching. Failing to teach through what we sing means we are missing that opportunity for discipleship. 

Doing this “with all wisdom” and “with gratitude” can be challenging. “With all wisdom” implies that we are doing it [1] with a biblical understanding of what worship is, [2] with an understanding of what the message and teachings of Christ are, [3] doing it in such a way that is effective, and [4] doing it in such a way the Christ is glorified, not the messenger. “With gratitude” implies that we are ever mindful of the great sacrifice that Christ made so that He might redeem us from our sin by His grace. This needs to be done in more than in a group setting, but with individuals so the details of how to apply what is being sung can become part of the process. The most effective discipleship is done one-on-one or in small groups. We need to not confuse an emotional response with a song with an obedience response to God’s Word. 

What We Sing, Not Just How
We need to reconsider what we are teaching each time we stand to lead, as well as how we are doing it. Mapping out the theological themes and biblical teaching of the lyrics and coordinating them with the message is one way we might be able to do this more effectively. Another step would be to review all the songs sung in the past 3-4 months [or a year would be better] to see what has been presented and if it has been done in such a way that we are helping the congregation to build a canon of songs that they will know well enough that they are part of their heart songs. Doing this would also reveal those things which we are overlooking in our sung worship.  A lot more could be said, but I trust this might help start some conversations and help us to become more aware of an area that is being neglected in worship leadership. 

I welcome responses of how this is being done so we can all learn more.


Wednesday, July 6, 2022

The Dangers of a Velcro Heart….

 The Dangers of a Velcro Heart….  To what or who are we attached?

It was July 1978, and we were attending a reception as part of the newly commissioned missionaries in Richmond, VA at the home of the Dr. Baker James Cauthen, then Secretary of the Foreign Mission Board [later, International Mission Board]. We were excited and moved at the testimonies of the others that had responded to God’s call as we had done and were soaking in the wisdom from veteran missionaries and Dr. Cauthen. In a small group that had gathered around him, he shared some wisdom that had been shared to him as he and his wife were preparing to leave and serve in China years before: “Never wrap your heart around what you can carry in your hands…” Though I understood what he meant; the implications of the statement grew over the next several years.

God was so gracious. During orientation and the year of language study we developed friendships that we cherish to this day. After completing a year of language study in Costa Rica, we had to stay an additional two months for the birth our our youngest, David, and because of the war in Nicaragua, the country to which we were headed. We had excellent care for our newborn and proceeded to war torn Managua, where things were difficult and many things were scarce as a result of the fighting. Dr. Cauthen’s words would come to mind many times during the next years as we completed our first term and were unable to return because of the continued conflicts. God then opened the door for us to serve in Panama. During the next ten years God continued to show His love and faithfulness, as we grew to love the people, and loved the ministries to which God had called us. The embargo and invasion gave opportunity to see God as work even more.

God was so gracious. Later God led us to fill a need at the Baptist Spanish Publishing House in El Paso as a music editor, where we worked and served in a local church for six years until God called us to New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary to do doctoral work. God’s call to make disciples and train leaders developed into a teaching role. During the next twenty-four years God provided and walked with us as we became professors at the seminary, taught in Cuba, walked through the death of our parents, and through cancer for both Kathy and me. Dr. Cauthen’s words began to take on expanded meaning: we must always be careful that we don’t attach ourselves to the things which make us comfortable, but places, or even people as well. We can love, appreciate, and thank God for them but never let them supersede the priority of Christ as our highest desire in our lives.

God is so gracious. This year we “retired,” though we still will have a limited teaching role and moved once again this time to be close to family. We have loved the people in every place God has allowed us to serve, however, He has led us to not “hold in our hearts a place, but the person of Jesus.” Paul’s admonition in Col. 3 has been a part of my call from the beginning and now has taken on new meaning: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” [Col. 3:1-2] As we approach this final part of what God has called us to here in this life , we want to continue to have the right focus.

Our desires for people, places, and things are so much like Velcro, grabbing our attention and our affections that we miss the ultimate purpose and calling in our lives: an eternal relationship with Him. I like what C. S. Lewis said in the Weight of Glory:

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

My prayer is that God would help us deliver us from our Velcro heart and mold and shape our hearts to long for Him.

Sunday, June 5, 2022

Worshiping a Memory: 2 Kings 18:4

 He removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it. (It was called Nehushtan.)  2 Kings 18:4

Someone reading this for the first time might wonder why Moses made a bronze snake in the first place. Numbers 21:4-5 gives us the background: 

They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”

Rather than looking to God for help [remember God had parted the waters and they had passed through the sea on dry land, a great miracle], they began to [1] get impatient– God was not working on their timeline and [2] began to complain, looking at their lack of provisions rather than looking to their Provider. To help them refocus, God sends the snakes, but also sends the remedy: He tells Moses to make a snake of bronze and put it on a pole; all who would look on the pole would be healed. Moses does and God keeps His promise healing all those who would look.  “So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.” [Number 21:9] 

Fast forward several hundred years and the people of God had begun worship the bronze snake. What had been a reminder of God’s grace and provision for their sin had become an object of worship in and of itself. Rather than remembering the lesson of God’s forgiveness and provision for their complaining and not looking to God as their Provider, they had begun to worship the memory of the occasion focusing on the object that symbolized it all.

As we review all the great things that God has done in the past, we can easily slip into worshiping the memory of a great work of God and delighting more in being a part of it than focusing on God who was the source of the great work. 

We recently “retired” from teaching [though we will still teach some in a limited capacity] and also celebrated 48 of married life. While reading the above passage this morning in my devotional time, God reminded me that as I recall the great and wonderful things that He has done over the years, I must closely guard my heart in delighting in the memory of the feelings and what others might have said at that time more than focusing on our loving God who was the source of it all. 

The next time you read about Moses and the bronze snake, let this be a reminder to you as well.