Jesus is Better

 

There’s a song that’s been a constant refrain in my head the past year. If I could have an anthem, this would be it.

Jesus is better.

Lately, other things have been clamoring to assure me that they’re of utmost value or importance. There have been highs and lows, joys and sorrows, times when I had enough and times when the dinosaur piggy bank my sister gave me had more in it than my bank account. Ministry success, ministry failure, relationships, rejection, uncertainty of the future, fear. How easy it is to dwell on these things and find identity in them.

But Jesus our King is constant! Jesus our King has defeated the tyrannical rule of sin in our lives! My life isn’t defined by fear or breakups or even success! My life is hidden in Christ, and He gives me His righteousness. He defines me. There is no other king, no other lord, no other we turn to.

And then we get to the bridge, which reminds me that more than the worst sorrow or the greatest victory, more than the best comfort or riches, Jesus is better. But sometimes it’s hard to believe, so like the man in Mark 9, we cry out, “Lord I believe! Help my unbelief.”

In all my sorrows, Jesus is better; make my heart believe

In every victory, Jesus is better; make my heart believe

Than any comfort, Jesus is better; make my heart believe

More than all riches, Jesus is better; make my heart believe

Let your heart take satisfaction in that today. Our song eternal: Jesus is better.

For more music from the Austin Stone, or for resources, visit http://www.austinstoneworship.com/.

 

Picture courtesy of verge network.org.

Worship Leader, You Are a Theology Teacher

I visited a church recently, one that is fairly prominent in the city it’s in. There were people from all different walks of life, of many different ethnic backgrounds, and the musicians were good. People were raising hands and singing at the top of their lungs and everyone seemed into it.

And then toward the end of the third song, something dawned on me. Not once during the three songs was Jesus mentioned. The cross wasn’t brought up. Sin and redemption and the love of Christ were nowhere to be found. We sang two more songs before the message, and the theme of every song was, “I’m going to get through this. God is going to lift me up.” God was a coach, someone to help walk you through the difficult times in life. And you know what? You can do it! 

Jesus was nowhere to be found.

Worship through music is a big part of most church services, whether it be through a pipe organ or a rock band. Music moves us in certain ways; scientists have done many studies and tests to try to figure out why music affects our emotions so, without any definitive answers. Every known human culture uses music and song to communicate, and it can’t be by accident! We’re wired to enjoy music, and it’s one of the many ways we offer worship to God.

I’m no stranger to worship music: I led the worship team at my home church all through high school, was heavily involved in leading with our college ministry, and was the worship director at a church for a year and a half after college. I come from a church tradition that highly values and emphasizes worship through song and music, and so that scene is a very familiar world.

Early on in my worship leading, I would pick any song that someone could describe as a “worship song.” Songs I liked, songs someone else liked, the latest songs by the best worship bands, songs that really got the church hyped. Songs that tickled peoples’ ears. Songs that tickled peoples’ hearts. I was teaching my people a weak theology with minimal Biblical support. There was a lot of, “This is what I’m going to do, God!” and not much, “God, this is what YOU’VE done!”

I’m picky now when it comes to worship music. Someone once complained that I didn’t do enough new or different songs, that my song database was too small. When it comes to leading congregations, I think worship leaders must use discretion when choosing songs.

Think about your church service last Sunday. Can you remember the preacher’s main points? What Bible passage was he expounding on? It’s a bit difficult, isn’t it? Now think about what songs you sang. Can you remember one or two of those?

The reality is, at the end of the week, people will be more likely to hum a song they sang at church than to ponder sermon points. I found myself just this morning singing the worship songs my church sang the last two weeks. When you put anything to music, you’re bound to commit it to memory. My 6th grade math teacher taught us about fractions and percentages through several songs he wrote, and I still remember them to this day. I’m sure when you’re going through your ABC’s, you sing the tune in your head.

Melodies and lyrics stick with people, and so it is important that when we pick songs to lead our congregations with, we pick songs that clearly point to the gospel and are supported by Scripture. They need to be songs that are doctrinally sound. What we think and believe and sing about God is of utmost importance, and so which songs we sing in our services is of utmost importance.

So how do we do this?

First, worship leaders should be in the Bible daily. Saturating yourself with the Word of God enables you to lead people to God and the full richness of the gospel. It also helps you see when songs aren’t biblically sound and enables you to teach people where the truths in your song come from.

Worship leaders should be excellent theologians. Leading people into worship is more than being able to play the guitar and sing! You have an immense responsibility and calling to shepherd the people God has entrusted to you. It’s not a call for every aspiring musician.  Go buy a book on Christian doctrine or systematic theology and study it. Things like the Trinity, the doctrine of man, and eschatology are rich biblical truths that will inform you when choosing a worship song. Knowing theology helps you see why the line, “you took the fall and thought of me above all” in the song “Above All” is inaccurate and faulty. It puts man at the center of God’s purpose, as opposed to the glory of God being at the center of God’s purpose.

Worship leaders should pick songs carefully. (If you haven’t gotten it yet, this is kind of the point of my post.) People are often quick to include a song in their set list because Hillsong or Bethel or Passion does it. But God has called you to be faithful to Him and your people. Go through the lyrics. All of them. Do they have biblical support? Are they doctrinally sound? Is it a song your pastor would approve of? What truths do your want your people to cherish? Would people know that you’re singing to, about, and for God? Remember “In the Secret?” It sounds like you’re asking someone (probably Jesus) to sneak around the corner and make out with you. Awkward. Same with “Draw me Close to You.”

It takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of prayer. And this is before you even get to the practicing part! It decreases the amount of songs in your song bank. It may sound like too much, but as worship leaders, you’ve been entrusted with much! Be diligent and faithful, friends. It is not an entitlement to anyone with with a decent voice. It is a calling by God.

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on worship and wonderland

The summer has blown by! At least, summer break has. In Texas, it stays summer 75% of the year. Classes have started up again, and with that comes comes a new shelf-full worth of books, enough papers to publish a book, and chapel. We recently had our first chapel service of the semester at my school, and the hall was full of returning students, brand new students, professors and visitors, all there to ring in the new academic year. Our Dean went up to the front and began by reading a portion from the Bible. And as he was reading, I noticed there was a song softly playing over the speakers, and it sounded familiar, but it was just faint enough that I couldn’t place my finger on it. The media guy must have forgotten to turn Pandora off. So I was simultaneously listening to the Scripture being read and straining to figure out what the song being played in the background was, when I heard it:

I love the shape you take when crawlin’ towards the pillowcase….

And I knew it wasn’t Song of Solomon being read up front. John Mayer’s “Your Body is a Wonderland” was the first song to be played at chapel this semester.

Apparently Pandora figured that John Mayer was similar enough to play on the “Hillsong” station. But I shouldn’t be too surprised. Rihanna showed up on my “Chris Tomlin” station.

The irony of the situation wasn’t lost on me. There we were, listening as a Psalm of David was being read, a song where David speaks of his love and worship for God. And juxtaposed next to it was John Mayer, singing of  his love and worship of a woman’s body. In an almost Song of Solomon-esque way, Mayer describes his lover’s body and the pleasures he finds with her, coupled together with a catchy tune.

Da-na-num, da-na-num da-num, da-na-num, da-na-na-num.

It reminded me of the different things we worship. We usually think of worship in regard to a deity in the sense of a specific “god” so that worship is something we give to the God Yahweh or Allah or Vishnu or the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

A few years ago, several friends and I visited the large Church of Scientology that sits on “The Drag” in Austin to find out more information about it. We were invited to come to a Sunday morning worship service, where there would be “worship music” and a message. The worship part interested us, since we were all musically inclined, so we inquired what kind of music their worship music was. “Oh, you know,” the woman said, “just anything you hear on the radio. Hip hop, contemporary, country, just anything!” And then she invited us to come out and play if we would like.

And I imagined a worship set starting off with Lil’ Jon’s “Get Low”.

In that context, “worship” was anything you wanted it to be. It didn’t hold any value, it was just a formality because faith movements are supposed to incorporate some form of communal worship. So for them, “worship” meant nothing at all.

But I’ve heard people toss around the phrase, “worship is a lifestyle.” It’s an attempt to fight against this idea that “worship” is just songs that are sung or something you do in a religious place, like church. The word itself has different implications. The word “worship” get’s its roots from an old English word that implied giving worth to something… worth-ship. It is whatever you esteem or hold in high regard, whatever it is that you give ultimate worth and value to, be it God, family, money, technology, significant other, religion, education, or women’s bodies.

We don’t like to think of our worship going to anything or anyone other than God. But in case you wonder what it is you might be worshiping, you can probably get an idea by taking a look at some things. Like what do you spend a majority of your time on? What occupies your mind as you’re laying in bed, waiting to fall asleep? What do you talk about with your friends and family? What do you worry about? What do your creative energies go toward? Where does the money in your bank account go to? All these indicate the things that hold your affections, what captivate your heart. What you give much worth to. The things you most value will be what you think about, what you work towards, what you spend on. What you serve.

Our lifted hands during that Sunday morning song may convince us that we’re worshiping Jesus. And maybe it’s true. But our words, thoughts, and receipts may show another god.

Jesus came into a culture and world, announcing the good news that there was a new King in town. Caesar who? And as faithful subjects to this new Kingdom, we serve and live for Him because He really is worth our worship (worth-ship). He who poured His life out so that we might be freed from the chains of idolatry to all the little gods that vie for our attention. That compete for our affection.

Sex, money, power, fame, approval, “stuff”, celebrities, religion, self. Good things that we make ultimate things.

What are you worshiping?

“…So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself, who is worthy of eternal praise..” – Romans 1:25

“You must have no other gods beside Me.” – God, Exodus 20:3

this is the One we have waited for

I know, I know. I’ve been horrible at updating this recently. There’s been less activity here than if you were watching golf on a Sunday evening.

But to jump-start  my return to the blogosphere, I want to share a song that has been stuck in my head all weekend.

I’ve always liked Chris Tomlin. In a genre where a lot of songs sound either like whiny love songs to God (or a lover of your choice) or are theologically anorexic, Tomlin has consistently written songs that have robust lyrics that point back to Christ. They glorify God in such a beautiful way. They actually praise and worship God! Imagine that.

This song is an old one that Tomlin wrote and sang, but this version has David Crowder as well, and includes an additional lyric where previously there was only humming. I was actually there at the concert when they recorded this exact version in Austin, and it was beautiful! Thousands of people lifting high the banner of Jesus Christ!

This Is Our God

The lyrics simply remind us who God is:

A refuge for the poor, a shelter from the storm
This is our God
He will wipe away your tears and return your
wasted years
This is our God
So call upon His Name, He is mighty to save
This is our God

A father to the orphan, a healer to the broken
This is our God
And He brings peace to our madness and comfort
in our sadness
This is our God
This is our God

This is the One we have waited for
This is the One we have waited for
This is the One we have waited for
Jesus, Lord and Savior
This is our God

A fountain for the thirsty, a lover for the lonely
This is our God
He brings glory to the humble and crowns for the faithful
This is our God
So call upon His Name, He is mighty to save
This is our God

And the chorus reminds us who Jesus is…. “This is the One we have waited for! Jesus, Lord and Savior… This is our God!”

Maybe it sounds corny, but my heart warms when I hear this song because I am reminded that everything my heart yearns and longs for is found in Jesus. When broken things can’t satisfy me, when people don’t live up, fail me, and leave me, when my soul groans for true relationship, when nothing in this world satisfies… As I’m waiting for wholeness and shalom… Jesus completes me! In Christ, our desires overwhelmingly meet their satisfaction.

This… This is our God.