Preparing for Vietnam & Burma

Postcard_DanMy trip to Vietnam and Myanmar (Burma) with Timothy Two International begins in just 20 days.

Teaching pastors who have little or no access to Biblical and theological training – so that they might teach others also. 


Praise reports:

  • Sufficient funds for this trip had been received by Jan. 13.
  • All airline tickets have been purchased.
  • My new passport arrived a couple weeks ago.
  • All overnight accommodations have been secured.
  • All visas have been received.

Prayer requests:

  • Click here for my Prayer Calendar which I’m updating with new requests as I get closer to departure.
  • Pray for Beth’s continued recovery from hip replacement surgery. She’s doing very well, but it takes 6-12 months for full recovery. The surgery was on Dec. 15.
  • Pray that our fundraising and painting efforts will enable us to move out of Beth’s mother’s house and back into our own house by April 1.
  • Pray for the many final pre-trip preparations.
  • Pray for my departure from Myrtle Beach airport Feb. 24 and return Mar. 12.  See the Calendar for travel details.
  • Pray for safety and wisdom for Timothy Two President Steve Curtis as he travels to Bogota, Colombia this week seeking to set up my next teaching trip in South America for May or June.

Information about the Church in Vietnam and Myanmar you might find helpful as you pray:


“…what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also…”
– 2 Timothy 2:2


Dan Sonnenberg
Instructor
Timothy Two Project International
phone   419-265-1405
web  TimothyTwo.org/Dan
blog  DanSonnenberg.com

 

 

 

Beginning with Timothy Two Project International

Postcard_DanEarly last year after resigning from the church in Ohio, I heard from Steve Curtis who invited us to consider joining him and his wife Rissa as teaching missionaries with Timothy Two Project International. Through translators, Timothy Two instructors equip pastors and ministry leaders in developing nations with the fundamentals of the Christian faith so that they, in turn, can equip others. Timothy Two missionaries seek to fulfill Christ’s Great Commission to make disciples in areas of the world where there is little or no formal biblical or theological instruction available. Continue reading

The Westminster Larger Catechism: EPC Modern English Version

By Daniel L. Sonnenberg

At the time of this writing, the EPC Modern English Version of the Westminster Larger Catechism is published only in pdf format on the Evangelical Presbyterian Church website. However, pdf documents are notoriously difficult to read online, especially by mobile devices. The purpose of the Catechism’s duplication in the form below is to facilitate online reading and studying of this document using mobile devices.

The EPC Westminster Larger Catechism (Modern English Version) below has been duplicated with no changes* from the original pdf download on the EPC website.

*Concerning the duplication of this document: from the EPC website.

“The Westminster Confession and Larger Catechism downloads are the EPC Modern English Versions. Licensed Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs under Creative Commons. The work may be duplicated with no changes and with attribution to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. It may not be sold for profit.”

Continue reading

Dr. C. Matthew McMahon’s Shorter and Longer Summaries of Calvin’s Institutes

By Daniel L. Sonnenberg

Would you like to read a modern summary of Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion online? Dr. C. Matthew McMahon has written two of them.

“A Condensed Summary of Calvin’s Institutes is a shorter overview of John Calvin’s magnum opus – the equivalent of about 14 pages in Word. Outline 1 below itemizes the contents of Dr. McMahon’s shorter summary.

“A Longer Overview of Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion” is the equivalent of about 44 pages in Word. Outline 2 below itemizes the contents of Dr. McMahon’s longer summary. Continue reading

Teaching Local Pastors in Southeast Asia

By Daniel L. Sonnenberg

Looking forward to teaching pastors in Southeast Asia in March 2016 as an Instructor with Timothy Two Project, International.

Timothy Two Project, International exists to serve a critical need around the world. We are committed to equipping and training indigenous pastors and ministry leaders with the foundational truths of the Christian faith that they may then be able to train others. In this way, the mandate from Christ in the Great Commission to “make disciples” can be realized in areas of the world where there is little to no formal biblical and theological training available.

“The things you heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust to faithful men that they may be able to train others also” (2 Tim. 2:2).

Shelved?

By Daniel L. Sonnenberg

What should an ordained pastor, or any Christian, think about being “put on the shelf” for a period of time – like a book that was once open, useful, referenced and needed, but now closed and put in its place among the other books in the library? The term “shelved” came to me this morning as I walked into my home office lined with books. I have been using a tamer sounding phrase about my current situation – “between churches” – which, I suppose, communicates my desire to serve a church once again in the future. But the raw truth is that maybe I will serve a church again as a pastor, and maybe I won’t. One can’t normally call oneself to a church.

Being “shelved” reminds me of Moses, who for 40 years after killing the Egyptian, tended sheep in the Midian desert. During those years he met and married Zipporah (remember her more famous father Jethro?) and they raised a family together. But only after those 40 years in virtual exile, did God call him by means of a burning bush to lead Israel out of Egypt. A rather long wait. Continue reading

The Hovering Spirit in Creation (Gen. 1:2)

By Daniel L. Sonnenberg

On Genesis 1:2, the Spirit’s care of the earth at creation.

“‘…the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.’ The verb [rahap] basically means ‘flutter fly’; it is used in Deuteronomy 32:11 to describe an eagle stirring up the nest, fluttering over its young. In much the same way, the unformed, lifeless mass of the watery earth was under the care of the divine Spirit, who hovered over it, ensuring its future development.”

Allen P. Ross, Creation & Blessing: A Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis, p. 107. Continue reading

7 Characteristics of Reformed Spirituality

I first met Dr. Hughes Old at RTS Orlando when I attended a course he taught based on his book Leading in Prayer. Though some will disagree with his evaluation, I respect his view on this subject because he has written so widely on the Reformed tradition including such works as Worship: Reformed According to Scripture, The Patristic Roots of Reformed WorshipThe Shaping of the Reformed Baptismal Rite in the Sixteenth CenturyHoly Communion in the Piety of the Reformed Church and “Reformed tradition of Eucharistic piety and reflection.”

In “What is Reformed Spirituality? Played Over Again Lightly,” Hughes Oliphant Old identifies 7 central characteristics of the way Reformed culture has expressed itself since the time of John Calvin and his successors. He says it is a spirituality (piety, devotion, practice of Christian living) that emphasizes: the Word; the Psalter; the Lord’s Day; works of mercy; the covenant of grace embodied in the Lord’s Supper; stewardship; and, meditation on the mystery of divine Providence. Dr. Old states: Continue reading

Understanding the Presbyterian and Reformed Order of Worship

Reformed Forum’s audio discussion: The Order of Worship.

Glen Clary walks through a Reformed order of worship, explaining the Biblical precedent and rationale for elements such as the call to worship, invocation, different types of prayer, and the benediction along with the administration of Word and sacrament. Rev. Clary is pastor of Providence OPC in Pflugerville, TX.

Introduction begins at 0:00. Explanation begins at 4:45.

Seeking a New Ministry Position

By Daniel L. Sonnenberg | June 2015

God uses many differing means to lead his people to their next ministry positions. And it’s been said that it’s not so much what you know as it is who you know that often opens such doors. So I’m reaching out to those of you who know the Lord and who know me because I am currently seeking a new ministry position that combines the following elements: Continue reading

Daily Dose of Greek

Want to begin or continue your study of New Testament Greek? Here’s something that may help. Sign up at www.DailyDoseOfGreek.com. Recommended by Dr. Mark Futato, Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando. Also, in August, Mark Futato’s www.DailyDoseOfHebrew.com will launch.

EPC Statement on Supreme Court Marriage Ruling

EPC statement on Supreme Court marriage ruling.

Online Modern English Westminster Shorter Catechism with ESV Proof Texts

I‘ve been looking for an online modern English version of the WSC with ESV Scripture proofs for a long time and even started designing my own. I discovered it’s a lot of work and very time consuming. Alas, Martin Eagle has accomplished this feat based on Rowland S. Ward’s text, and it is found at the link below. Thanks Martin and Mr. Ward!!! 

Westminster Shorter Catechism in Modern English with ESV Scripture Proofs. Especially helpful is his outline of the contents of the Confession as seen below:

(A) INTRODUCTORY

Provision of Redemption
Life’s Purpose and Holy Scripture – Questions 1 to 3

(B) WHAT WE ARE TO BELIEVE ABOUT GOD

The One and Triune GodGod’s Eternal Plan

Creation

Providence

Sin in the Human Race

God’s covenant of Grace

Christ The Mediator

The Person and natures of the Mediator
    The three offices of Christ
    Christ’s state of humiliation
    Christ’s state of exaltation

– Questions 4 to 6- Questions 7 to 8

– Questions 9 to 10

– Questions 11 to 12

– Questions 13 to 19

– Question 20



– Questions 21 to 22

– Questions 23 to 26

– Question 27

– Question 28

Application of Redemption
God’s Effective CallBenefits in this life

Justification
    Adoption
    Sanctification

Further Benefits

In this life
    At death
    At the resurrection

– Questions 29 to 31- Question 32

– Question 33

– Question 34

– Question 35



– Question 36

– Question 37

– Question 38

(C) THE RESPONSIBILITY OF MAN

Duty of the Redeemed
The Moral LawBrief Summary
    Exposition of the ten commandments
    Transgression and Penalty

God’s command in the gospel

Faith
    Repentance Leading to Life

The Means of Grace

The Word of God
    The Sacraments

Baptism

The Lord’s Supper

Prayer

Exposition of the Lord’s Prayer

– Questions 39 to 40- Questions 41 to 42

– Questions 43 to 81

– Questions 82 to 84

– Question 85

– Question 86

– Question 87

– Question 88

– Questions 89 to 90

– Questions 91 to 93

– Questions 94 to 95

– Questions 96 to 97

– Questions 98 to 99

– Questions 100 to 107

A Corporate Prayer for Christian Worship

Written for Dr. Steve Brown, Communication II, Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando, December 2003.

O God, you are the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, in his life, death and resurrection, reached out to us in love to pay the price for our sins. We glorify your name. We have sinned against you in our thoughts, our words and our deeds. We have forgotten you, we have ignored you, and we have deliberately disobeyed you. Forgive us our sins today and draw us near to yourself. We need you, and we love you.

We are gathered here in the name of your Son because he is the only true source of life, of truth, of healing for our souls. We are afraid of many things that are happening in our world. We fear attacks by terrorists, we fear losing our jobs, we fear that our families will break apart, we fear that we may never have a family of our own, we fear that we will not become all that you have called us to be. Calm our fears and give us your peace.

Give wisdom to those in authority over us that we might live in peace and freedom to proclaim the gospel in our community and throughout the world. Give wisdom to our church’s leaders that we might serve you faithfully and lovingly among your people. Help your people to live in unity and love with one another so that others might see Christ among us. Help us together to fulfill our calling to make disciples of all the nations, to minister to the poor and needy, and to stand up for righteousness wherever we are.

Lord, remember those among us who are sick, hurting, depressed, struggling with doubt, or lonely. Comfort the troubled. Strengthen the weak. Lift up those who are cast down. Give joy to the sorrowful.

O God, you are our deliverer and our salvation. We look forward with hope and joy to the coming of the fullness of your kingdom, when every tear will be wiped away and when Christ will reign forever and ever and we will reign with him as his glorious bride. Thank you for your matchless grace and mercy on our behalf. All glory be to you now and forever, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Knowledge of God and Ourselves (John Calvin)

1. Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But as these are connected together by many ties, it is not easy to determine which of the two precedes and gives birth to the other.


For, in the first place, no man can survey himself without forthwith turning his thoughts towards the God in whom he lives and moves; because it is perfectly obvious, that the endowments which we possess cannot possibly be from ourselves; nay, that our very being is nothing else than subsistence in God alone.

In the second place, those blessings which unceasingly distil to us from heaven, are like streams conducting us to the fountain. Here, again, the infinitude of good which resides in God becomes more apparent from our poverty. In particular, the miserable ruin into which the revolt of the first man has plunged us, compels us to turn our eyes upwards; not only that while hungry and famishing we may thence ask what we want, but being aroused by fear may learn humility.

For as there exists in man something like a world of misery, and ever since we were stript of the divine attire our naked shame discloses an immense series of disgraceful properties every man, being stung by the consciousness of his own unhappiness, in this way necessarily obtains at least some knowledge of God. Thus, our feeling of ignorance, vanity, want, weakness, in short, depravity and corruption, reminds us (see Calvin on John 4:10), that in the Lord, and none but He, dwell the true light of wisdom, solid virtue, exuberant goodness. We are accordingly urged by our own evil things to consider the good things of God; and, indeed, we cannot aspire to Him in earnest until we have begun to be displeased with ourselves. For what man is not disposed to rest in himself? Who, in fact, does not thus rest, so long as he is unknown to himself; that is, so long as he is contented with his own endowments, and unconscious or unmindful of his misery? Every person, therefore, on coming to the knowledge of himself, is not only urged to seek God, but is also led as by the hand to find him.

2. On the other hand, it is evident that man never attains to a true self-knowledge until he has previously contemplated the face of God, and come down after such contemplation to look into himself. For (such is our innate pride) we always seem to ourselves just, and upright, and wise, and holy, until we are convinced, by clear evidence, of our injustice, vileness, folly, and impurity. Convinced, however, we are not, if we look to ourselves only, and not to the Lord also —He being the only standard by the application of which this conviction can be produced. For, since we are all naturally prone to hypocrisy, any empty semblance of righteousness is quite enough to satisfy us instead of righteousness itself. And since nothing appears within us or around us that is not tainted with very great impurity, so long as we keep our mind within the confines of human pollution, anything which is in some small degree less defiled delights us as if it were most pure just as an eye, to which nothing but black had been previously presented, deems an object of a whitish, or even of a brownish hue, to be perfectly white. Nay, the bodily sense may furnish a still stronger illustration of the extent to which we are deluded in estimating the powers of the mind. If, at mid-day, we either look down to the ground, or on the surrounding objects which lie open to our view, we think ourselves endued with a very strong and piercing eyesight; but when we look up to the sun, and gaze at it unveiled, the sight which did excellently well for the earth is instantly so dazzled and confounded by the refulgence, as to oblige us to confess that our acuteness in discerning terrestrial objects is mere dimness when applied to the sun. Thus too, it happens in estimating our spiritual qualities. So long as we do not look beyond the earth, we are quite pleased with our own righteousness, wisdom, and virtue; we address ourselves in the most flattering terms, and seem only less than demigods. But should we once begin to raise our thoughts to God, and reflect what kind of Being he is, and how absolute the perfection of that righteousness, and wisdom, and virtue, to which, as a standard, we are bound to be conformed, what formerly delighted us by its false show of righteousness will become polluted with the greatest iniquity; what strangely imposed upon us under the name of wisdom will disgust by its extreme folly; and what presented the appearance of virtuous energy will be condemned as the most miserable impotence. So far are those qualities in us, which seem most perfect, from corresponding to the divine purity.

Our Plans, God’s Plans

In life, and on mission trips, maybe especially on mission trips, things don’t always turn out as we’ve planned! For example, last night we were trying to get down to Brooklyn to the mid-week service at the famous Brooklyn Tabernacle. We had to change subway lines part-way there. We got off the first train just fine (not a small feat with a group of 28), then quickly jumped on a train across the ramp that had the right letter on it (R), but once we took off, David Tepper noticed that we were going in the wrong direction! It took us back where we started. Time for a do-over! So the SECOND time we made the line switch, we took our time and made sure we were on the right ramp for the right train going in the right direction! Fortunately, we made it to the church with time to spare and had a wonderful experience worshiping and praying with hundreds of brothers and sisters in Christ from Brooklyn, NY.


Earlier in the week, something similar happened. We were given two 5-gallon buckets of paint to use on the walls of the third floor bedrooms where the men sleep. Like well-trained painters, we began using the bucket that had already been opened first. It still had four gallons in it. By late afternoon, we poured out the last of that bucket into our pans and opened the second bucket. We were more than surprised when we discovered that the color and texture of the paint was very different from the first. Upon further investigation, consultation with the Betel staff, and digging around in the basement, we discovered that we had been using some leftover flat white ceiling paint and should have been using an open bucket of satin enamel paint tinted a nice beige color! We lamented together for a few minutes, then cleaned out our pans, rollers and brushes and looked forward to another day. All was not lost though. Three of our students learned to paint either for the first time or learned to paint a little better that day. Second, we had applied a primer coat on some walls that were previously blue that will be easier to cover with beige on the second coat. Third, Alexis Wallin, one of our excellent paint crew that day (along with Gabe Wallin, Tommy Cambron), observed upon reflection that some of our other technique could be improved. She suggested that instead of working in several rooms at a time, that it might be better to all work together in the same room, get that knocked out, then move on to the next room. And she was right! The next day, we did just as she suggested (with a completely different crew) and it worked much better. And this time, we checked and double checked to make sure we were using the right paint!!! The rooms look great. Thank you Lord, for your grace when we fail and for helping us to learn from our mistakes!

More Arts Feedback 2010

Thanks for being proactive in the area of music! We probably need a larger critical mass of music folks to do some of the bigger things that you probably would like to do. Maybe survey some of the worship music used at some of the larger churches that we have visited recently and try integrating a few into our music. My suggestions are along the line of continued trying new things and discovering the style that resonates with MG. Don’t have any issues with our programs.

Submitted by Martin Brittingham, Sr.

Daily Life in the Kingdom of Heaven: Part 1, Inner Preparation

I recently heard Dr. Richard Pratt (Reformed Theological Seminary, Third Millenium Ministries) speak on the advance of God’s kingdom in the world in preparation for Christ’s final return to rule and reign. Coincidentally, a few days later on a long plane trip, I read through the Gospel of Matthew and noticed how often Jesus and others spoke of the “kingdom of heaven.” So I’d like to chronicle some of the thirty references and make comments on them to remind myself of the existence and nature of this kingdom and to encourage myself and others to look for it in our everyday existence and look forward to it on the day when Christ returns.

Perhaps the most striking feature of the narrative in Matthew is the phrase, “the kingdom of heaven is like.” In these cases the writer uses simile to make his point clear to Jesus’ followers. In other cases, the writer uses metaphor leaving the word “like” unspoken. In still other cases, a parable is used to convey the message. Let’s look at the first instance of this phrase in the book of Matthew.

In those days John the Baptist came to the Judean wilderness and began preaching. His message was, 2 “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near. ” 3 The prophet Isaiah was speaking about John when he said, “He is a voice shouting in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the LORD’s coming! Clear the road for him!’ ” (Mat 3:1-3 NLT)

The first reference to this kingdom was made by John the Baptist saying that because this kingdom is near, we must repent of our sins and turn to God. John’s message was one of preparation. We must prepare for the coming of the kingdom by turning away from sin and turning toward God.

While studying to prepare for preaching a sermon on this passage some time ago, I discovered a fact about preparing for the coming of a king in the ancient near east. When a king was coming to visit an area of his realm, the inhabitants of that region often “prepared the way” for his coming by improving the roads on which he would travel. If the roads were excessively winding, they would straighten them.If the roads were excessively hilly or mountainous, they would lower them. If the roads held any obstruction, they would be removed. And so on. The inhabitants of the kingdom made it their business to make the coming of the king into their region as easy as possible for him.

In this passage John was pointing to making preparations in our hearts, in our inner lives. Are we breaking down any “mountains” or straightening out any “crooked places” or removing any “obstructions” in our hearts in preparation for Jesus’ coming back into our world, our state, our town, our neighborhood? Will He feel welcome in our home because we are living in a way that pleases Him? Or will he find strife, anger, gossip, unforgiveness, fear or other sin in our lives and our homes? We should instead, turn away from those things by turning toward Him to seek His help to overcome these sins in our daily lives. We should, for example, seek his help to disover the source our anger, perhaps in fear, perhaps in unforgiveness, and be willing to face that fear or forgive the person who has offended us. Also, we should remember that we don’t have to do this alone. After all, who can straighten a winding road or blast out a mountain or remove a large rock by himself? There are wise and experienced members of the body of Christ who are willing to help us if we will but seek them out and ask for their advice and prayers.

King Jesus is coming back one day to our world, his world, not just to visit, but to rule and reign permanently. What kind of preparations are we making for Him in our inner lives? As His followers and loyal subjects in His kingdom, we should be diligently making those preparations every day as if he were coming today.

God’s Sovereign Plans

God empowers evil people for a time, but only to accomplish His purposes. Then He takes away their power. For example, when Assyria’s king threatened to invade Jerusalem, Isaiah reassured King Hezekiah with these words.

“And the LORD has spoken this word against him: “The virgin daughter of Zion despises you and laughs at you. The daughter of Jerusalem shakes her head in derision as you flee. “Whom have you been defying and ridiculing? Against whom did you raise your voice? At whom did you look with such haughty eyes? It was the Holy One of Israel! By your messengers you have defied the Lord. You have said, ‘With my many chariots I have conquered the highest mountains– yes, the remotest peaks of Lebanon. I have cut down its tallest cedars and its finest cypress trees. I have reached its farthest corners and explored its deepest forests…

“But have you not heard? I decided this long ago. Long ago I planned it, and now I am making it happen. I planned for you to crush fortified cities into heaps of rubble. That is why their people have so little power and are so frightened and confused. They are as weak as grass, as easily trampled as tender green shoots. They are like grass sprouting on a housetop, scorched before it can grow lush and tall. “But I know you well– where you stay and when you come and go. I know the way you have raged against me. And because of your raging against me and your arrogance, which I have heard for myself, I will put my hook in your nose and my bit in your mouth. I will make you return by the same road on which you came.” (2Ki 19:21-28 NLT)

Arts Fellowship

In May, we held our first arts fellowship with about a dozen attendees from several churches. Some heard about it on the radio, others received my email invitation.

Violinist Beverly Andrews spoke about her involvement as the current concertmaster with the Wilmington Symphony, about playing for local weddings and memorial services and as a teacher of younger students. At every turn, she demonstrated some of the types of playing she does to our delight. She especially emphasized the importance of practicing her instrument and being prepared for the events she plays and encouraged others to do the same in whatever field of the arts.

We held a short informational meeting with the entire group and decided to format our meetings with 30 minutes for the opening presentation by one artist followed by 60 minutes in small groups and planned to meet once a month.

Since our numbers were relatively small, we met altogether in one small group in another room. In the process, we discovered that we had quite a number of writers, quite a few performers and one visual artist. Each person took a turn to tell a little about their work or read a few selections or show some of their work.

One of the members told how he has published his work through Amazon and has sold many copies in several places throughout the world. He spent a few minutes explaining the process of preparing a manuscript for publication through Amazon.

Our next meeting will be held on Thursday, June 17. Steve Curtis will be our featured speaker.

Arts Fellowship Groups

I’m interested in forming four creative arts fellowship groups or “guilds” at MG made up of people with similar interests, skills and passions. These groups or guilds would meet once a month initially for mutual encouragement in your craft and your Christian life. These groups would be organized around various sub-groups of the creative arts.

The four groups would be:

1) VISUAL ARTS such as painting, sculpture, jewelry, pottery, etc – these are primarily decorative arts;

2) DESIGN ARTS such as architecture, landscaping, stagecraft, furniture, webpage design, etc – these are primarily functional art forms;

3) PERFORMING ARTS such as singing, dancing, playing instruments, acting, speaking, etc. – these are primarily presentational art forms; and,

4) LITERARY ARTS – writing arts such as poetry, prose, songwriting, etc.

For example, the writers’ group would get together to share their latest writing projects with one another each month in an effort to encourage each other to keep writing and to help one another to improve their writing skills and try new forms of writing.

The performing arts group would get together to share songs, skits, dances, etc they are working on to encourage each other to keep practicing and learning and to improve their technical skills and confidence in performing.

The design group would gather to share their latest designs and the results of those designs thru photos or field trips to see a landscape, piece offurniture show building they designed.

The visual arts group would gather to show and discuss their lastest painting, drawing, piece of jewelry, pottery or bead work or sculpture.

I’m suggesting the idea of four simultaneous meetings on the 4th Thursday night of each month here at the church beginning in May. I’m not sure how we’d navigate the summer, but we may simply have our inaugural meeting in May, do some activites or meals together during the summer then resume meetings again in the fall. I’m open. My aim is  for our artists to be encouraged both in the art and in their Christian life together.

If you have an interest in any of these groups or would be willing to help faciliate a group, please let me know. Also, tell your friends about this!

Music Ministry: Foundational Principles and Practical Applications at Myrtle Grove EPC

What should the arts ministry of MG look like in the 21st century and what should be its impact? I suggest three non-negotiables: 1) it should have its roots firmly in Scripture and be directed and empowered by the Holy Spirit; 2) it should reflect the relational diversity and unity of the Trinity and the Body of Christ; and, 3) it should communicate in terms and forms that are understood by the culture it is trying to reach.


1. Rooted in Scripture and directed by the Holy Spirit – in arts ministry. We embrace both Scripture and the Holy Spirit in our worship, “…we worship in Spirit and truth.”
a. Truth: Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” The truth is found in Jesus himself and in Scripture, the Word of God, which is our foundation, our bedrock. Who we are and what we do should be guided by Him and his word, in ministry and all of life.
b. Spirit: the Holy Spirit, who is both the Spirit of Jesus and the Spirit of God, is the source of our spiritual life, our spiritual growth, our comforter, our guide, and the source of our gifts, power and wisdom for carrying out our ministry. We should follow the direction of Scripture and the Holy Spirit in our worship together.

2. Reflecting the diversity and unity of the Trinity and the Body of Christ – in arts ministry. John 17 and 1 Cor 12 teach us to live out both the diversity and unity of the Trinity in heaven and the body of Christ on earth.
a. The Trinity: the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three persons yet one God, and Jesus prayed that we should be one just as He and the Father are one.
b. The Body of Christ: the Body of Christ has many members serving many functions, yet is still one body. Therefore, we should make every effort, with God’s help, to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace among us. This means that we should build one another up, prefer one another in love, refrain from gossip, forgive offenses readily and settle disagreements by going to one another individually in a spirit of love and reconciliation. And, as fellow artists, we should encourage one another’s gifts and strive to live in community with one another so that we can learn to love one another from the heart, maximize our strengths and minimize our weaknesses.

3. Communicating in language and forms understood by the culture we are trying to reach – in arts ministry. We should use worship language and worship forms that are familiar to the people we are trying to reach.
a. Language: Cultural studies in missions have taught us that people worship more fully when they do so in their own language. That is why missionaries like Doug and Beth Wright have spent their lives translating the Scriptures into other languages. Also, the apostle Paul, writing in 1 Corinthians 14, teaches us that we should use language that builds up the entire church. The use of other languages is appropriate as long as they are interpreted so all can understand and be edified.
b. Worship forms: Cultural studies in missions have shown that people of all cultures become most engaged in worship when they use godly forms that are more familiar to them. A negative example of this occurred during the late 1800s and early 1900s when missionaries working in China or Africa, for example, required national converts to adopt western forms of worship such as singing traditional European hymns in European languages. The nationals felt “out of their element” when doing so and were not able to be fully engaged in worship. However, in the late 20th century, missionaries began to encourage nationals to compose and sing worship songs in their own languages using music forms that were more familiar to their own culture. As a result, they were able to become more fully engaged in worship. We see this in churches in America and in our own church. Some of our people grew up in an earlier time when more so-called traditional forms were used and tend to engage more deeply in worship with those forms, while others came of age in more modern times and tend to engage more readily with modern forms. At Myrtle Grove, we seek to both “keep up with the times” by learning and using more modern worship language and forms and to “connect with the past” by adapting more traditional forms to modern culture. We should have the same attitude as Jesus when he said, “I have not come to be served but to serve” and the Apostle Paul when he wrote, “I become all things to all people that I might save some.” That is not to say that we will totally discard language and forms that are familiar to us, but that we will willingly adapt those forms so that others can more fully engage in worship with us.

Those are the non-negotiables in my view according to Scripture and reason. These inform and direct us in the church and in our ministry. Following are the specifics for the coming semester and year. As I’ve prayed and consulted with other leaders in the arts ministry as well as the pastors and elders, we believe the following should be our direction in the coming months. However, we know that God can and may redirect us along the way. When Paul sought to go into Asia, he had a vision from God that redirected him to Macedonia/Phillipi instead. Also, the writer of Proverbs tells us, “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but the Lord directs his steps.” So, because of my background in science, I like to think of our plans as experiments. We’re experimenting to find the best way to do things at this point in time. We’re not locked in to anything we try. We don’t have to do things the same way all the time, and some things must change when new people come in or people are sent out. For example, Nathan Storey has been called to serve at North Grove, so that may require a change at Myrtle Grove. We can make other changes as we go if it’s not working. So, like the weather in Wilmington, if you don’t like it right now, wait around, it’ll change. We’re trying to do our best to both “equip people for their work of ministry” and release people into ministry in such a way that our strengths are maximized and our weaknesses are minimized for everyone’s good and God’s glory. However, in order to function as a family of artists we need some guidelines so that everyone can have the same expectations.

In 1 Chronicles 25 we discover that in the ministry of the temple, the musicians were appointed by King David: 1) to minister to the Lord and lead the people in worship through prophecy and music; 2) to serve under authority (he appointed some to be overseers under his direct authority and others to be under their authority); 3) to be trained and become skilled; 4) to serve, young and old – teacher and student – together; and, 5) to serve on a rotation basis. All godly kings of Israel and Judah after David returned to this model when they took the throne. We use this as a model for our ministry at MG. Presently, I serve under the authority of the Elders/Session and Pastor Steve. Pastor Steve and I meet with the worship leaders on a regular basis to plan, pray for and organize the arts ministry. I recently spent a weekend with the worship leaders to plan and pray for the coming year. Following are the results of that gathering. Our hope and prayer is that this will most glorify God and edify the believers at MG in the coming year.

1. Ministry to the Lord and leading the people in worship

a. Minimum expectations for worship leaders/service planners
i. Post the service you are leading on Planning Center and send out invitations to the participants two weeks in advance of the service
ii. For example, if the service is Sunday, February 21, invitations should go out no later than Sunday February 7

b. Minimum expectations for all musicians
i. Upon receiving an invitation to participate in a rehearsal and service via Planning CenterOnline.com
1. Respond (click on Accept or Decline) in 2-3 days (no later than Wednesday) so that the leaders will know if they need to get a substitute for you
2. If you’re not sure, send us an email telling the leaders when you’ll be sure
ii. Before attending rehearsal
1. Listen to all music to be rehearsed at least one time through
2. Download and print out all music to be rehearsed except pre-printed choir music
iii. During rehearsal
1. Listen attentively to the rehearsal director
2. Make accurate notes of sections you are to play, sing or rest
3. Sing or play your part to the best of your ability
iv. Before the service
1. Listen to all music you are playing or singing one more time through
2. Look over all your music one more time making note of sections you are to play, sing or rest
v. During the service
1. Humbly give yourself body and soul to praise God and edify the body of Christ
2. Sing, play or rest your part to the best of your ability in a manner that complements the other singers and players
3. When you make a mistake (we all make ‘em!), forgive yourself, smile and keep going.
4. Give thanks to God for the opportunity to serve
vi. Since we normally hold only one rehearsal per service, rehearsal attendance is required in order to sing or play in a service
vii. If you don’t know how to use Planning Center to respond, listen and download, or want to learn more, attend a Planning Center workshop.

2. Serving under the protection of spiritual authority
a. I will meet with Pastor Steve on a weekly basis and with the Session on a monthly basis to plan, pray for and evaluate worship services and practices
b. Worship leaders will meet with Pastors Steve and me on a quarterly basis for Saturday breakfast or more often as needed
c. Worship leaders for the initial period are Dean Hewett, Beth Sonnenberg, Jud Smith and Peter Mattis

3. Serving young and old together on a rotation basis
a. Teams and groups for the beginning of 2010
i. All participants as a whole on a given Sunday – whether worship leaders, vocal leaders, band members, vocal team, choir, orchestra, dance, drama, visual artists – will be called “the worship team” because you are all part of the worship leading team
ii. Bands and vocal leaders will remain much the same as last year, but because we are short on instrumentalists and long on singers we will go to three (3) bands instead of four (4) rotating every three (3) weeks
iii. A new vocal team made up of singers from Dan/Steve’s team and returning worship leaders will be joined to Jud’s team rotating every three weeks
iv. The choir and orchestra will be joined to Dean/Beth’s team rotating every three weeks
v. Other creative arts teams and individuals (dance, drama, visual arts, youth, children, soloists, ensembles, etc) will be joined to Peter’s band on a rotating basis
vii. A list of qualified substitutes will also be developed and distributed to the worship leaders

4. Training and skill development

a. Training and development for new people coming into the ministry
i. A get-together with the ministry leader to discuss your intention to serve
ii. A required one-day 2-3 hour intensive DVD-based workshop on the basics of serving in the arts ministry
iii. A period of service as a substitute before becoming a full member of a team as determined by ministry leaders
v. And /or a period of service in the children’s or youth’s arts ministry prior to serving in adult music ministry
v. Pairing with a mentor for 6-12 months
vi. Other required DVD-based workshops during the mentoring period according to your ministry area
vii. Accountability by your mentor and ministry leaders to maintain the basic standards in rehearsals/services

b. Training and development for returning members
i. A get-together with the ministry leader to discuss your reasons for leaving and intentions for serving
ii. Required DVD-based workshop(s) to “catch up” in your ministry area

c. Training and development for returning worship leaders
i. A get-together with the ministry leader to discuss your reasons for leaving and intentions for serving
ii. A period of 3-12 months of service as a non-leader to prove willingness to serve before leading
iii. A get-together with the ministry leader at the conclusion of service period to discuss your new leadership role
iv. Required DVD-based workshop(s) according to ministry area determined by ministry leaders

d. Training and development for current members
i. Required DVD-based workshop(s) as they are offered on Sunday mornings at 9:45 according to your ministry area
ii. Other optional DVD-based workshops will be offered on Sunday mornings at 9:45
iii. Optional guest artist events will be offered on Sunday mornings at 9:45 and possibly Friday nights featuring some of you as well as outside visiting artists and artists from our community

e. Rehearsal locations and times
i. All rehearsals will be on Tuesday evenings except when they run into holidays
ii. All rehearsals will be in either the sanctuary, music room or both
iii. The Tuesdays Dean/Beth’s band is in the sanctuary, the choir will be in the music room
iv. The Tuesdays Jud’s band is in the sanctuary, the vocal team will be in the music room
v. The Tuesdays Peter’s band is in the sanctuary, the orchestra will be in the music room preparing for the following week
vi. Sometimes, the vocal team, choir or orchestra will join the band in the sanctuary
vii. Other times, the vocal team, choir or orchestra will not join the band until Sunday

f. Using Praise Charts with band, choir and orchestra
i. This is our best tool currently for including choir and orchestra with our bands
ii. But we don’t have to be limited to using the charts in the order exactly as written
iii. Choir and orchestra members should note where verses, chorus and bridge are located in their score
iv. Choir and orchestra should practice jumping around from section to section so that worship leaders can follow the leading of the Spirit in worship

g. Audio operations
i. Some of our worship leaders and musicians will be trained to operate the sound board in order to help Jeff
ii. Musicians are often very good audio operators since they understand music vocals and instrumentals and can hear the “mix” of all the parts

h. Use of In-ear monitors for bands
i. Band members should practice putting in the mix only what you need to hear to sing or play well; most don’t need to hear every part
ii. We should encourage the use of in-ear monitors once again and use fewer stage monitors to provide the best sound for the congregation
iii. We should get rid of headphones if at all possible since they make us look like Mickey Mouse

i. Congregational training in learning new songs and growing in worship expression
i. Congregation learning new songs
1. Currently, we teach new songs strictly as preservice and offertories when the congregation is not expected to sing along but can just listen. Our goal is to let them hear new songs enough times in these settings that they will feel comfortable singing along and worshiping freely in the main worship times
2. Other ideas to help them learn new songs
a. Post a list of CDs including Sunday’s songs on the website
b. Teach them a whole group of new songs over a weekend in preparation for making a “live” worship recording
ii. Congregation growing in worship expression
1. Wednesday night prayer services are very “experimental” right now, using a variety of forms of worship not currently used on Sundays.
2. I hope that many of you will join us and that this will overflow into our Sunday worship times

j. Fellowship and ministry among arts members
i. My deep desire is to develop a “community of artists” at MG who gather together regularly to enjoy Christian fellowship with one another and to encourage one another in their art.
ii. Last semester, I offered an artists’ “class” on Sunday mornings in the fellowship hall that included vocalists, instrumentalists, writers and visual artists. We studied and discussed Rory Noland’s book, The Heart of the Artist. About a dozen attended regularly. It was a start, but I’m not satisfied.
1. This semester, I’d like to alternate two things on Sunday mornings:
a. Paul Baloche’s DVD-based worship workshops on various topics including Leading Worship: Creating Flow; Worship Vocal Workshop; Worship Band Workshop; Music Styles; Music Theory Made Easy; Acoustic Guitar; Electric Guitar; and, Writing Worship Songs. Each video will run two to three weeks, so they’ll be like mini-seminars. We’ll announce them in advance so you can make plans to attend.
b. Between the mini-seminars, I’d like to offer Featured Artist Events as mentioned above. Some of you and other artists in our church would be invited to share their art with us from 9:45 – 10:45 on Sundays in Fellowship Hall. Maybe Kim and Travis Price would be willing to sing and play for us, or Steve Curtis or Nathan Storey could share some of the songs they’ve written or Anne Blackley could share some of her paintings, or someone else could read some of their poetry. Maybe if this is well-received we could do some of these events on Friday nights simultaneous with or after Family Game Night. Maybe a “coffee house” of sorts could develop using gifted artists from our own body.
c. To pull this off, I’ll need some help on the fellowship side of things. Would you be willing to help set up/decorate the room in a creative way to make it a special event for all or provide refreshments for that morning?
2. Another fellowship that someone suggested is to plan a quarterly non-arts event (like bowling) quarterly for the artists to just go out and do something fun together. Would you be willing to coordinate such an event or group of events?
3. Another “way out there” idea for you to consider and pray about with me. Could we take a group of musicians to Haiti this summer to work on construction and recovery from the earthquake in the daytime and minister in music in the evenings? I was part of a team that did this in Guatemala after the earthquake in 1976. It was hard work but it was a blast and very rewarding. What do you think?

k. Care ministry for our fellow artists in times of need
i. We need those who can help us stay in touch with people in the arts ministry who have needs. We need those with the gift of communication and information. Would you be willing to be a contact person and keep other members updated for us?
ii. We need those who can send cards, make meals and fill in the gap in other ways. We need those with the gifts of helps and service. Would you be willing to help in this way?
iii. We need those who can help coordinate these efforts who have a gift of administration or leadership. Would you be willing to help in this way?

Thank you again for your participation in the arts ministry at MG and for your continued prayers for us as we seek to lead, equip and release all who serve together here.

‘Religion’ is Not a Dirty Word

It’s popular today for Christian public speakers and authors to consistently assign a negative connotation to the words ‘religion’ and ‘religious.’ However, the historical and biblical meaning of these words do not accord with this popular notion.

The Historical Definition

Historically, the meaning of the word ‘religion’ is the same as ‘faith’ or ‘belief system.’ According to the Simple English Wikipedia, “A religion is a set of beliefs that is held by a group of people…  Other words that are used for ‘religion’ are ‘faith’ and ‘belief system.'” One’s religion or belief system might be Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Agnostic or Atheist.

The Biblical Definitions

The Friberg Analytical Lexicon gives the following information about these two words found in the Judeo-Christian Bible. Religion (noun): 1.  deisidaimoni, from dei (fear) and dai (divinity); (1) in a good sense reverence toward the gods, pious attitude toward divinities; (2) in a bad sense superstition; (3) in a neutral sense, a system of beliefs, religion (AC 25.19); 2. theskei, religion, religious service or worship (CO 2.18); especially as expressed in a system of external observances (AC 26.5). Religious (adjective): thrsko, of one preoccupied with religious observances religious, God-fearing, pious (JA 1.26).

Why the Confusion? 

The Bible describes various forms of religion and religious observance: true forms and false forms or expressions. Yet for some reason, at this moment in time, and for many, the words “religion” and “religious” have taken on the connotation of only those false forms of religion. For many, ‘religion’ has become a dirty word, so to speak, so that all references to religion are negative.

I recognize that connotations of words can change over time, but the Bible describes both true and false forms or expressions of religion. For example, the Apostle James contrasted the two in back to back verses in chapter one of his epistle. In verse 26 he referred to a false form of religion, “If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless” [italics added for emphasis]. That is to say, a person who doesn’t control his tongue is not practicing the true Christian religion. Rather, he is practicing a false form of religion.

Second,  James describes the practice of pure and genuine or true religion in verse 27, “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you” [italics added for emphasis]. In other words, a person who helps orphans and widows in distress and resists dishonest or fraudulent conduct is practicing a true form of the Christian religion.

The apostle Paul referred to a false form of religion – though he does not use the word “religion” – when he wrote, “For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant…holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power” (2Ti 3:2-5 ) [italics added for emphasis].

Commentator Matthew Henry, perhaps, helps us understand the difference between true and false forms of religion when he writes in his commentary on this verse, “…people…make it [religion] a vain thing if they have only a form of godliness, and not the power.” Henry seems to be saying that even though the Christian religion in itself is true, people make their religion vain, or false, by practicing it in a manner that is contrary to what the Bible teaches they should believe and do.

Legalism and License

Such false or vain religion often takes one of two forms: 1) legalism; or 2) license (sometimes called antinomianism [anti – against, nomianism – law]. Note the following definitions of each. Legalism, in Christian theology, is a sometimes-pejorative term referring to an over-emphasis on discipline of conduct, or legal ideas, usually implying an allegation of misguided rigor, pride, superficiality, the neglect of mercy, and ignorance of the grace of God or emphasizing the letter of law over the spirit. In other words, more strict than the Scriptures require. License, licentiousness (or antinomianism), on the other hand, is lacking legal or moral restraints; especially disregarding sexual restraints; or, marked by disregard for strict rules of correctness. In other words, more lax than the Scriptures require.

True Religion versus Legalism and License

True religion is faith in God’s grace as the pre-eminent principle of redemption. Legalism is any view that obedience to law, not faith in God’s grace, is the pre-eminent principle of redemption. Its opposite is license, antinomianism, or licentiousness, which is the view that believing in Jesus Christ is the only requirement for receiving eternal life. Legalism says that my good works alone are the means to salvation. License says that faith alone is the means to salvation, but that good works do not necessarily follow faith. True religion says that one is saved by faith in the work of Christ alone, AND that good works necessarily follow and are evident in the life of the believer.

Alternatives: using Qualifying Words and Synonyms 

 I suggest two alternatives to consistently assigning negative connotations to the words “religion” and “religious.” The first alternative is to use qualifying words to accompany them. That’s what we find in Scripture. For example, pure and genuine religion, worthless religion, or simply false religion,  or true religion.  The second alternative is to use synonyms for false forms of religion such as, legalism, license, a form of godliness but denying its power, ceremonialism, formalism, inconsistency, superstitionfalse profession, Pharasaism, outward showtraditionalism, religious display, duplicitysanctimoniousness, self-righteousness, self-justification, or what seems to be a favorite of the biblical writers, hypocrisy. They often used the various forms of the word hypocrite, hypocrites, and hypocrisy to describe various forms of false religion or religious expression or activity. (Job 8:13, 13:16, 15:34, 17:8, 20:5, 27:8, 34:30, 36:13, Ps. 26:4; Prov. 11:9, Isa. 9:17, 33:14, Jer. 42:20; Matt. 6:2, 5, 16; 7:5; 15:7; 16:3; 22:18; 23:13-15, 23, 25, 27, 29; 24:51; Mk. 7:6; Lk. 6:42; 11:44; 12:56; 13:15; Gal. 2:13; Matt. 23:28; Mk. 12:15; Lk. 12:1; Rom. 12:9; Gal. 2:13; 1 Tim. 4:2, Jas. 3:17; 1 Pet. 2:1).

Using one of these examples, let’s see how Paul represented false and true religion in Gal. 2:13-14, “And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all, “If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews?  (NKJ) Paul uses synonyms for what is false (hypocrisy) and what what is true (truth) in their current practice of the Christian religion (the gospel).

Religion versus Relationship?

Some say that Christianity is not a religion, rather, it’s a relationship – with God, with Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit, and with other Christians. My view is that it’s both a true religion – a system of biblical faith and practice – and that it is based on a right relationship with God made possible by the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ and made manifest in the lives of Christians through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Why not wed the two biblical concepts instead of divorcing them from one another?

Summary

It is my sincere desire that Christian public speakers and authors would once again adhere to the historic and biblical connotations for the words ‘religion’ and ‘religious’ and refrain from consistently assigning to them negative connotations. And that they would instead qualify the form of religion or religious expression to which they are referring – whether true or false according to the Bible – in one way or another. Otherwise, readers and listeners will become more and more confused about the true meaning of these two very biblical words.

by Daniel L. Sonnenberg, Wilmington, NC

A Corporate Prayer for Christian Worship

Written for Rev. Larry Osborne, Communication Lab I, Reformed Theological Seminary (Orlando), September 2002.

Our great and loving heavenly Father,

May your name be praised today above all people, nations, powers and authorities in heaven and in earth.

We pray that you would bring forth your peace, your justice, your righteousness, your mercy and your love among us gathered here, throughout this land, and in every nation on earth.


We ask your guidance for our President, Vice President and all those in authority at the federal level of government in these perilous times. We pray for our Governor and all those in state government. We pray for all our leaders at the local level. Give them wisdom and courage, that we might live our lives in peace for the purpose of spreading the good news of the Gospel.

Father, you know our needs today. We ask you to provide for those among us, and in this city, who need food, clothing, shelter, financial assistance and jobs. We ask your healing for those among us in need of physical healing and for others among us who are in need of emotional healing and spiritual renewal. Thank you for the life of our sister who recently passed away. Comfort and strengthen all those among her family and friends in their loss this week. We pray as well for the families of those in our nation who perished in terrorist attacks just one year ago. Provide for all of their many needs. And we pray for our missionaries and college students who have gone out from among us. Keep them in your grace and grant their every need.

We give you thanks and praise for your forgiveness in our lives through the death and resurrection of your son Jesus. By the power of your Spirit, give us grace to examine our lives and to repent of anything that causes us to be separated from you. As you have graciously forgiven us, give us grace, even today, to forgive each person who has sinned against us in any way.

Father, we are surrounded by evil from without and we are so easily led astray by our own evil desires within. We thank you that your strength is made perfect in our weakness. Deliver us, by your grace, from the temptations we will face this week.
Now to you who are the King, eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. And all God’s people said, Amen.

The Practice of Private Prayer

Private prayer is a difficult occupation. Our communication with God is vital. Therefore, the devil aims to keep us from it in any way he can. Not only that, the world tells us that we are foolish to believe in and pray to an invisible God, and our flesh is weak and undisciplined. The most common form of distraction is busyness in life, work and ministry. Especially in church work, there is always more that can be done. The next sermon or newsletter article is always waiting to be written, someone always needs a visit or a phone call, the last Session meeting must be followed up and the next one prepared. There is so much to do and think about that it is very easy to justify skipping private prayer in order to “get on with God’s business.” We justify ourselves, thinking that doing God’s work is more important than communicating with the God of the work. Often it is because we believe we see more tangible results from work than from prayer, when in fact, prayer connects us with God, who is the source of any lasting result in our work. Martin Luther once told a friend that he had so much to do the next day he had to get up earlier to pray longer in order to accomplish all that he had to do. Therefore, we must make an appointment each day with God as part of our plan for the day or it will get pushed out of our schedule. Even five minutes a day is better than nothing. We must make an appointment until we can’t live without it.


My practice has been primarily to write my prayers in a journal. I began years ago writing them by hand but mostly switched to the computer in recent years. Writing my prayers has several benefits. First, it helps me clarify what I’m thinking and feeling. Emotions are fleeting, jumbled and confused much of the time. When I write, I take the time to sort out one emotion from another. For example, am I feeling angry, sad, disappointed or joyful? I bring those feelings to God for his ministry. Then, sometimes as in many of the Psalms, they turn into praise of God because he is the only answer to my problems. Thoughts are similar. As I write them out, they become clearer. I bring them before God. Second, it helps me organize my thoughts. I don’t try to put them in a particular order as I write, but when I look at what I’ve written I see patterns and recurring themes in my thoughts and feelings that I can seek God about. Third, it serves as a spiritual diary. I can look back to what was happening in my heart a year ago, a month ago, or during the past week, to see how God is working in my life. If I’m still struggling with the same thing, I ask God to show me why and try to go deeper in that area. Fourth, it allows me to recall what I’ve prayed for so that I can give thanks when my prayers are answered. Many of the Psalms recall the psalmists’ previous requests and give thanks to God for his mercies in answering those prayers. If I don’t write them down I often forget what I’ve asked for and don’t give thanks where it is due. I have done this now for so long I really miss it when I don’t make the time to do it.

One of my goals for the future is to speak my private prayers more often, to combine writing with speaking. I have tended to resist speaking my prayers because of the several benefits of writing noted above as well as the possibility of being overheard by others with me in the house or office. Following are some of the benefits of speaking my prayers. First, there is a greater sense of immediacy. It is like the difference between writing someone a letter or email and actually talking with them in person or on the phone. It is communication right now, not something waiting in the mailbox to be read later and to be responded to even later yet. Moreover, speaking out loud emphasizes to me the fact that God’s presence is really with me. He is not in some remote location that requires writing. He hears and speaks and acts, sometimes right away. Second, there is a greater sense of pathos when speaking. The best I can do to emphasize a point when writing is to use various fonts or underlining, while when speaking I can raise or lower the volume or pitch of my voice, or I can speak more rapidly or slowly, among other things. Hearing the pathos in my own voice helps me realize my condition, whether I’m buoyant or flat, clear or dull, thankful or thankless, repentant or obstinate, so that I can bring that to God and let him deal with it. Third, spoken prayers can be done more quickly and in various locations. They don’t require turning on the computer, sitting down, or even total quiet (though that is helpful). I can spend a brief time praying aloud if I have only a short while, or I can do it while I am walking about the room, the house, or the neighborhood.

A Prayer for the Opening of a Civic Gathering

Written for Dr. Steve Brown’s course, Communication II, Reformed Theological Seminary (Orlando), December 2003.

O God, we acknowledge today that you are our Creator and that you order the affairs of our individual lives, the life of our community, our nation and even the whole world. Your strong hand provides for us, guides us, protects and preserves us. Nothing happens without your knowledge, participation and permission.

Therefore, we ask that as we gather today, you would lead us as we consider, discuss and make decisions that affect our community. Guide our thoughts, temper our tongues, and bring us into unity over the matters before us. May the decisions we make serve the needs of the members of our community and serve as a model for other communities around us. May our community reflect your goodness, your grace, your righteousness, your compassion, your justice and your glory. Thank you for hearing our prayer. Amen.

Volume Levels and Song Selection in Worship

We recently made two changes to our 8:30am service on Sundays. We lowered the volume level, and we changed our song repertoire to include mostly classic songs. “Classic” songs are songs from previous generations including traditional hymns and worship choruses from the ’80s and ’90s. We did this for two reasons that resulted from a series of conversations between individuals who normally attend this service and the senior pastor. First, the people were saying that the volume was too loud. Second, the people were saying that the songs were mostly unfamiliar. The result, according to the pastor, was that the people were not entering into, or engaging in, authentic worship because of these hindrances.


The first of these issues (volume level too loud) reminded me that as people age, some experience a measure of hearing loss, that, in spite of hearing aids, results in what sounds like an increased level of background noise and less distinction in individual sounds. So, even though people may be losing their hearing, some sounds feel louder (and more irritating) to them than others. We decided, as a result, to remove instruments like the electric guitar, bass guitar and drums from this service to lower the overall volume level. We’ve discovered from past experience that it’s difficult to use these instruments and keep it quiet at the same time. When we’ve tried to do so, the instrumentalists often felt they were wasting their time and efforts because they weren’t being heard.

In response to the second issue (too many unfamiliar songs) we decided to begin using mostly classic songs from past generations with which most of the participants were already familiar and to introduce newer songs at a slower rate of speed.

Both of these issues reminded me of the passage in First Corinthians 14 in which the Apostle Paul instructed the church that when worship participants cannot understand what is being said or sung, they are not edified and therefore, have not fully participated in worship. To Paul, edification is an important aspect of corporate worship. In verse 12 he writes, “So also you, since you are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek to abound for the edification of the church.” Later, writing specifically about tongues without an interpretation, he writes in verse 17, “For you are giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not edified.” He makes a distinction here between private and corporate worship. In verses 18 and 19 he writes, “I thank God, I speak in tongues more than you all (privately); however, in the church (corporately) I desire to speak five words with my mind so that I may instruct others also, rather than ten thousand words in a tongue.” Summarizing in verse 26 his teaching on corporate worship he writes, “Let all things be done for edification.” To Paul, edification is imperative in corporate worship.

The implication here is that believers should observe different practices in corporate worship than we do in private worship. In private worship, we can do most anything within the bounds of Scripture that edifies the individual, according to his or her personality and giftedness. See many other verses in chapter 14. In corporate worship, however, we must do the things that edify the greatest number of people and/or seek to edify those who are the least gifted among us. That is not to say that we should “dumb down” our worship, but that we should seek to use language, songs, actions and forms that communicate in understandable and edifying ways to as many participants as possible without compromising the gospel.

I agree with RTS professor John Frame when he said in our worship class, “According to 1 Cor 14, worship is about communication.” Therefore, I have concluded that not only is it  appropriate to adjust our communications in worship from private to corporate settings, but also according to who is attending a given corporate worship service. If there is a significant difference in those who attend a particular service, it is appropriate to adust our communications accordingly. I believe when there’s greater understanding, whether through appropriate volume levels, through appropriate song selection, or through other means, there’s greater edification, participation and worship among the believers in our church. Our hope and prayer is that through effective communication, all will be edified so that even an unbeliever joining us will experience God’s presence through us, and in the words of Paul in verse 25, “So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, ‘God is really among you.'”

10 Tips for Final Rehearsals of Major Musical Events with Worship Band, Choir, Orchestra, Dance and Children

We are preparing for two large musical events coming up and held our final rehearsal today. Following are 10 lessons I learned or utilized in the final rehearsal:

1.Give yourself an extra hour more than you think you’ll need to set up and check the mics and monitors before the participants arrive. We hadn’t planned enough time for set up and sound check and as a result the participants had to sit and wait an hour before the rehearsal began.

2. Rehearse first the songs that include the largest number of participants. That way, those who are participating in only a few songs don’t spend a long time waiting around with nothing to do. For instance, we have a children’s ensemble singing one song with us. We did that song first, then let the children go home. Also, we have a dance troupe joining us for three songs. We did those songs next, then let them go home.

3. Get the monitors right. Nothing seems to bother singers and instrumentalists more than not being able to hear what they need to hear. And different groups need different things. For instance, everyone needed to hear enough of the piano, drums and lead vocals to take their harmonic, rhythmic and vocal cues. However, the choir did not want to hear much from the electric guitars. But the guitars certainly needed to hear themselves, so we put them on in-ear monitors so they could hear themselves but not be in the floor monitor mix. The orchestral instruments wanted to hear each other. So we grouped the winds and strings together on the opposite side from the percussion and trumpets, so the quieter instruments could hear themselves and not be overpowered by the louder. However, we needed to put the strings and winds in a monitor so that the brass could hear them.

4. Place one sound operator on the platform and one at the sound board. The person on the platform can check mics and monitors while the person at the board can raise and lower levels. Sound operators can understand one another better than sound operators can understand musicians. Operators speak more of the same language and can better communicate with one another and get the job done quicker. Once the musicians take the mics, if one of the operators remains on the platform the musicians can tell him/her what changes they need and he/she can tell the operator at the board. This is preferable to having the musicians “holler” up to the person on the board.

5. Take a break in the middle of a longer rehearsal. Especially if much of the group is standing, after an hour or more on risers or in one position on the floor, a break is needed to be able to finish the rehearsal with a clear mind and without a backache. We stopped today after about an hour and were able to start again in only ten minutes. Everyone appreciated a few minutes to relax and talk.

6. Give the participants a written rehearsal order. That way, everyone knows what your plan is for the rehearsal. As stated above, we didn’t rehearse them in the same order as we’ll perform them so that we could let the children and dancers go home earlier. So the songs were in a different order than usual. If I hadn’t done this, they couldn’t have corrected me when I skipped a song! I also gave them a written performance order for the presentation on the same page.

7. Give the participants written times and dates for the presentation and stagger arrival times for the sound checks. On the same page as above, I wrote down what times they should show up for the presentations. For instance, on one date, the band is scheduled to arrive at 4pm to unload and set up their instruments, the vocal team at 4:30pm to test vocal mics and the choir and orchestra at 5pm to do the final sound check. Give yourself extra time for this, but don’t make people wait around too long before a presentation or they’ll be too tired to perform well.

8. Give the participants a written dress code for the presentation. That way, you won’t have to hear them say, “I thought you said….” when they show up in a weird outfit. Keep everyone on the same page through written communication.

9. Provide seating and water for the participants. Fortunately, we were rehearsing in the sanctuary, so the long wait mentioned earlier was spent on padded pews. Also, we have a water fountain just outside the sanctuary door. One of the participants encouraged the others to bring folding chairs to the presentation so they can be seated while waiting in the wings before the performance, and he offered to bring sixty bottles of water to the presentation for all the singers.

10. Keep the room comfortable by controlling the temperature. At one point, the participants complained of the heat in the room and we had to ask the sound operators to lower the thermostat. We should have anticipated that and lowered it when the rehearsal began.

Leading Intergenerational Worship

At Myrtle Grove, we are reaching across the generations through worship arts ministry. We currently have two fairly distinct generations of worship leaders in our church. We have those who have been leading worship for fifteen to twenty or more years who are now in their forties and fifties, and we have those who have been leading only a few years in their twenties and early thirties. With such diversity, we are taking steps to maintain unity between the generations for the benefit of the church and its ministry to the community by rotating our worship bands and by combining our worship bands with orchestra and choir.



Over the past several years, we have been utilizing a modern worship band format (guitars, drums, bass, keyboards) for leading worship almost exclusively. We have been rotating four worship bands, two groups made up of mostly older worship leaders at the early, more blended, service and two groups made up of mostly younger worship leaders at the late, more contemporary, service. However, we found over time that this separation of old and young was not conducive to a sense of unity among the congregation or among the worship leaders.

We recently took steps to become more unified and to become more diversified. First, we asked the worship bands to begin serving at both services so that both “congregations” could experience the diversity of the different teams and have a greater sense of unity between the two services. And second, we expanded the minstry to once again include those who play traditional orchestra instruments (cello, flute, oboe, trumpet, horn, timpani, etc.) and those who have sung in traditional choirs (soprano, alto, tenor, bass). This has presented certain challenges and is reaping some significant rewards.

Challenges of utilizing bands for both services:
1. For bands who are used to serving only at the 11:00 service, an 8:00 a.m. sound check feels verrrrry early! It’s hard for some of our younger band members to get out of bed and get to the sound check/rehearsal on time.
2. For those same bands, the early hour makes it difficult to sing some of the modern music with its high vocal range.
3. For all the bands, waiting around for the late service makes it a long day lasting from as early as 7:30 a.m. for instrumentalists to as late as 12:30 p.m. since we have a “discipleship hour” at 9:45 between the two two services.
4. The congregation must sing a wider “play list” and perhaps learn new music somewhat faster.

Benefits of utilizing bands for both services:
1. The congregation experiences the diversity of all four bands instead of just two and the diversity of both younger and older worship leaders.
2. There is a greater sense of unity between the two services. With the same music being played in both services, members of the congregation can attend either service and have a similar experience on a given day.

Challenges of an expanded worship team including band, orchestra and choir:
1. Finding music for such a diverse ensemble. Until recently, not much music has been available that combines band with choir and orchestra except perhaps full-length worship musicals.
2. Rehearsing the various sections of the ensemble. Is it best to rehearse them all together or separately?

Solutions for a worship team that includes band, orchestra and choir:

1. Music – PraiseCharts.com provides music arrangements for modern worship songs and hymn re-makes for various groupings of instruments and singers. The arrangements match exactly those found on modern recordings from most of the modern worship artists. However, other instrumental and vocal parts are added to the arrangements to allow orchestra instrumentalists and choir singers to join the band. Music is purchased by the song via internet download – chord charts, piano/vocal files, mp3 files, orchestrations, files for choirs and vocal teams and even Finale files.

2. MusicTravis Cottrell and Brentwood-Benson Music. Cottrell’s musicals are sometimes seasonal, but also offer non-seasonal music for band, choir and orchestra. For example, we are currently using his Glorious Day: A Modern Worship Choir Collection which has eleven modern worship songs or hymn arrangements for band, choir and orchestra. Products can be purchased from Brentwood-Benson that include traditional songbooks for choir, a CD-ROM that has the full orchestration, and separate CDs for soprano, alto, tenor and bass. The only product they should add are chord charts for the band that get the whole song on one or two pages for guitarists, etc. At this time, they only provide Rhythm charts which can be three or more pages long. So we have written out our own chord charts for the bands.

3. Rehearsals – We are finding that it’s best to rehearse each ensemble separately before putting them all together on Sunday morning or for a special event. Stan Endicott and others have said that the smaller ensembles can maintain better focus and remain less distracted by other parts when rehearsing separately. For instance, this week we are preparing the band, choir and orchestra for the services on Sunday, and they have five songs they’ll be doing together. On Wednesday, we rehearsed the band (guitars, bass, drums, keyboards) with just the two lead vocalists. On Thursday, we rehearsed the orchestra players with just the piano and lead vocalists. And we rehearsed the choir singers and vocal team with just the piano and lead vocalists. Each group reported that this was much preferred to rehearsing all the ensembles togther at the same time as we have also done recently. It gave the participants more opportunity to ask questions if necessary, they were better able to hear their individual parts, and they felt that their time was not wasted waiting for other parts to be played or explained.


8 Steps to Preparing a Conductor’s Score for Worship Band, Orchestra and Choir

Modern worship music often includes not only the parts for the worship band (guitars, drums, bass, keyboards and vocals), but also parts for four-part (or more) choir singers and full orchestra. The score that contains all these parts is often called a “conductor’s score” or more simply called “the score” since it contains all the parts of a given musical work in one score.

 
In order to help all the musicians stay together throughout such a composition, the modern church music or worship director must learn to read, interpret and conduct from such a score. I have seen some directors who ignore the score and attempt to direct without it by using their gifted “ear,” memory, or some other intuitive sense, but it usually results in frustration of the instrumentalists or singers because the director does not know exactly what they should be doing at any given moment and cannot answer their questions.

What is a conductor’s score?

  • A score that contains all the parts for the instruments and vocals of a particular musical work
  • Sometimes, it is a reproduction of the original score as written by the composer
  • Often, it is a reproduction of the score as arranged and orchestrated by the arranger or orchestrator
  • Finally, it is the master score from which all the individual parts are extracted to create individual scores from which the musicians play and sing

What does the conductor’s score do?

  • It tells the director/conductor of a musical work what each instrumentalist and vocalist should be doing at any given moment in the music

Why is it important for the director to “prepare the score” or “mark” the score ahead of time?

  • By marking the score, ahead of time, in larger handwritten notes, the director can see at a glance what individual parts and whole groups of musicians should be doing in the music
  • Often, conductor’s scores are in very small print to get all the parts on 8 1/2″ x 11″ paper that fits on a standard music stand
  • And often, when directing a large group, the conductor’s eyes are well above the score which is placed on a music stand at about waist level
  • Thus, while conducting, the director cannot see the detail of every part from such a distance
  • Therefore, by making larger handwritten notes, the director can see which groups of singers or instrumentalists should be playing or singing, and can cue them at the precise moments of entrance or release

A method for marking the conductor’s/director’s score:

  • There are many ways to mark the score. Following is a method I was taught and have adapted and used for many years:
  • Use the following tools to do the marking:
  • 1. Use highlighting multi-colored markers, like those used to highlight textbooks for marking things you want to notice but not cover up.
  • 2. Use colored pencils for writing words on the score. If not colored pencils, use something that stands out from the other words written on the score. If the words already on the score are typed, handwritten notes, even with a pen, work fine because they are usually not as neat as those that are typed, and they are usually larger.

1. HIGHLIGHT THE REPEATS: I use orange highlighter for this. Run the highligher from the top to the bottom of the score at the beginning and end of a repeated section. I also add brackets at the top and bottom to indicate which direction (right or left) the repeat is headed.
2. HIGHLIGHT THE KEY CHANGES: I use green highlighter for this because green means “go” to me, and a key change often is used to give the song a boost. Run the highlighter from top to bottom of the score since all the parts usually change key together.
3. HIGHLIGHT THE TIME SIGNATURE CHANGES: I use blue highlighter for this. Run the highlighter from top to bottom of the score over the new time signature. Often, the time signature will change back to the original shortly, so mark each change.
4. HIGHLIGHT THE VOLUME CHANGES: I use pink highlighter for this. Mark the crescendos and decrescendos that appear in the score. Often, these will be found on several lines of the score. I mark one of the lines about 1/3 of the way down from the top where it’s easy to see.
5. HIGLIGHT THE TEMPO CHANGES: I use yellow highlighter for this. Highlight the intial tempo marking (e.g., 80 bmp, allegro, etc) and later tempo changes (e.g., ritardando, a tempo, etc.). Usually, these appear at the top of the score.
6. MARK THE ENTRANCES: I use colored pencils or a pen to mark these. Everytime an instrumental or vocal part enters (e.g., Violin, Timpani, Horn), write the name of the part just to the left of it, so you’ll notice it and can cue the entrance with a hand gesture or a look in their direction. If it’s a whole section or group entering (e.g., all brass, all voices, all strings), I draw a left bracket connecting the scores of all those parts (e.g., all brass might include separate parts for 1,2 trumpets, 3 trumpet, 1,2 trombone and 3 trombone, tuba). After bracketing all the individual scores, write “Brass” to the left of the brackett. I use a shorthand notation for many of the parts (Violin is Vln, Brass is Brs, Timpani is Tmp, Woodwinds is WW, etc.) because there’s not a lot of room on the page. Sometimes, an entrance comes just after the page turn on the score. I mark the entrance at the appropriate place at the far right side on the previous page, before the page turn, so I’ll know an entrance is coming up immediately after the page turn.
7. REWRITE IMPORTANT WORDS ON THE SCORE: Sometimes the Rhythm line of the score has notations (words in very small print) for multiple parts (acoustic and electric guitars, drum set, electric bass and keyboards). For example, one notation from a score in front of me has “E.G. distort riff, busy HH + BD quarters” in very small print below the Rhythm line. I wrote this out by hand in larger print so I’d know what the electric guitar, high hat and bass drum should be doing at that point.
8. ADD NOTATIONS FOR OTHER PARTS NOT INCLUDED ON THE SCORE. Sometimes, the band is playing from a chord chart that is not included on the conductor’s score. It may not have the same rehearsal numbers or measure numbers as the other parts extracted from the conductor’s score. The director must ADD notes to the score to indicate what they are seeing on their score (e.g., Intro, Verse 1, Verse 2, PreChorus, Chorus, Bridge, Instrumental Interlude, Tag, Ending, Outro). In so doing, the director knows what everyone is seeing on their score and can call out simultaneous cues for multiple groups as needed (e.g., “Rehearsal #2 and Chorus” or “Measure 37 and Bridge”).
By using these methods and other adaptations, the director can rehearse and direct large and diverse groups of musicians simultaneously, seeing at a glance where the music is going and cueing entrances for individuals and whole sections of the ensemble to provide a satisfying musical experience for everyone involved. Enjoy, and to God be the glory!

Worship Planning: Balancing All the Elements

Service planning involves achieving a balance of all the elements that make up a given service. I’m currently planning a service with some unusual elements and would like to analyze the process out loud for the benefit of any readers who might be attempting something similar.
This service has at least two, maybe three, unusual elements: it’s what we call a “combined service;” it includes some new musical forces; and it includes communion.

1. Combined service. We normally hold two services in our sanctuary on Sunday mornings at 8:30 and 11:00. From time to time we combine the people in one service in the gymnasium to promote a spirit of unity within the congregation. The people in the early service are used to music that’s a little quieter and not as modern as in the late service.
2. New musical forces. We are currently in the process of adding choir singers and orchestra players to our current bands. Bands require only chord charts and/or lead sheets, while the choir and orchestra require three-four part vocal scores and orchestrations with individual parts for each instrument.
3. Communion. This service includes communion. We are currently experimenting with a form of communion in which the participants come forward to tables holding the communion elements serve one another in turn.
Given these elements, following are some of the choices I made for the service:

1. Song selection. I chose songs that are modern, songs that are well-known and songs that include portions of popular arrangements of traditional hymns for several reasons.

  • Modern songs appeal especially to the late service people
  • Songs that are well-known appeal to the early service people
  • Modern songs appeal especially to the band
  • Songs that are well-known are easier to learn by the choir and orchestra in a relatively short period of time (two rehearsals)
  • Songs with remade versions of traditional hymns connect us to the present by using popular musical styles while connecting us to our past
  • So I chose “Holy is the Lord,” “How Great is Our God,” “Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone),”Jesus Messiah” and “Your Grace is Enough” by Chris Tomlin, “Revelation Song” by Jennie Riddle, and “In Christ Alone (with The Solid Rock / Medley)” by Stuart Townend, Keith Getty, William Bradbury and Edward Mote, arr. Travis Cottrell.

2. Song Arrangements.

  • Congregational songs. I chose Praise Charts arrangements from PraiseCharts.com for all the congregational songs. These arrangements are made from popular recordings by the original artists, so they appeal to the band. But they also include three- to four-part vocals for the choir singers and full orchestrations for the orchestra players.
  • Offertory. I chose a pull-out from a musical that we’re preparing for the fall, “Revelation Song” from the Glorious Day musical by Travis Cottrell.
  • Communion. I chose “Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone) and “In Christ Alone (with The Solid Rock / Medley” because they have elements that are both new and old which people can sing without watching the screen while they are serving one another.

3. Staging.

  • Band. The band is the core of the worship team so they will be more centrally located and more toward the front of the platform.
  • Choir. The choir has historically been located on the side of the chancel (front) in the sanctuary. In that location, their voices sound weak because they are singing toward the other side of the room. For this service, we are placing the choir on risers facing straight forward so that their voices can be more easily heard and their faces more easily seen as they lead worship.
  • Orchestra. The orchestra will be in front of the choir with some standing and some seated. Likely the brass and some woodwinds will stand and the strings will be seated as needed. I want some of them to stand so that their presence is clearly seen and heard since this is their first time to participate along with the band and the choir.

The Story of Job as Modern Drama

Some of the Old Testament prophets illustrated God’s message to His people through drama. In one instance, God commanded one of his prophets to marry a prostitute, a woman who in the normal course of her trade would be unfaithful to her husband, in order to demonstrate Israel’s unfaithfulness to her loving husband and God, Yahweh.

As I began reading the book of Job today, I imagined a dramatic re-presentation of Job’s story to address the question of suffering in our day. The language, customs, dress and other accoutrements could be modernized and perhaps the leading character could be a woman or even a teenager or a child since suffering is experienced by young and old alike. I imagine a woman experiencing a post-partum or mid-life depression, a teenager considering suicide because of some loss or a child in the hospital with leukemia.

It would be a challenge to write a script that succinctly but sufficiently portrays the character’s perseverance in spite of her own impatience and utter frustration, the friends’ logical arguments and patented but ultimately unsatisfying answers, the spouse’s (or closest confidant’s) fatalism, the Accuser’s scheming, and finally God’s conclusion of the matter. Modern people suffer too, and their friends and family make the same mistakes that Job’s did. We need to hear once again how God concludes the matter and learn to live by faith in the tension of of his answer.

Celebrating God’s Deliverance: The Festival of Purim

The origins of Purim, perhaps a less familiar Jewish festival, is found in the book of Esther. Purim is celebrated each year to commemorate God’s deliverance of the Jewish exiles from annihilation by edict of King Xerxes of Persia (485/6-465 B.C). This came about through the surreptitious work of his second in command, Haman the Agagite. Haman was likely a descendant of King Agag, king of the Amalekites, descendants of Esau and archenemies of Israel under King Saul.

Esther, a young Jewish exile, providentially became Queen of Persia when Xerxes banished Queen Vashti for refusing his summons. Mordecai, Esther’s older cousin who had adopted her earlier after the death of her parents, also served in the king’s court. As a courtier, he was privy to inside information that led to his uncovering a plot to kill the king. Later, he uncovered Haman’s devious plot to kill all the Jews. To foil Haman’s plan, Mordecai sent Esther to ask the king to reverse his decision and save the Jewish exiles. However, Esther knew that appearing before king without an official summons could result in her own death. She was therefore somewhat reluctant to attempt such an intervention.

Mordecai acknowledged the danger, yet gave her this warning, “If you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to the royal position for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14). Fortunately, the king welcomed Esther and granted her request. The plot was foiled, Haman was executed and Mordecai became prime minister.

Later, he and Esther wrote and circulated a letter to the encourage the Jews to institutionalize Purim as an annual celebration of the date when they “got relief from their enemies” and when “their sorrow was turned into joy.” They were instructed to observe “days of feasting and joy and giving presents of food to one another and gifts to the poor.”

The name Purim arose from Haman’s casting lots, purim, to determine the day when the Jews would be executed. Ironically, Purim became the name of the celebration that commemorates the foiling of that plot and the deliverance of the Jews from their enemies.

Classic Sermons: “Homily on the Paralytic Let Down Through the Roof” by John Chrysostom

Let us not then be disturbed, neither dismayed, when trials befall us. For if the gold refiner sees how long he ought to leave the piece of gold in the furnace, and when he ought to draw it out, and does not allow it to remain in the fire until it is destroyed and burnt up: much more does God understand this, and when He sees that we have become more pure, He releases us from our trials so that we may not be overthrown and cast down by the multiplication of our evils. Let us then not be repining, or faint-hearted, when some unexpected thing befalls us; but let us suffer Him who knows these things accurately, to prove our hearts by fire as long as He pleases: for He does this for a useful purpose and with a view to the profit of those who are tried.

— from “Homily on the Paralytic Let Down Through the Roof,” by Chrysostom (c.347–407)

Read this classic at the CCEL
Read more by this author at the CCEL

Classic Hymns: Of the Father’s Love Begotten

“Of The Father’s Love Begotten” by Aurelius Clemens Prudentius

This hymn, with very ancient roots, is a confession of faith about the Christ, the eternal Son of God, whose birth and saving ministry were the fulfillment of ancient prophecies (st. 1-3). The final stanzas are a doxology inspired by John’s visions recorded in Revelation 4-7 (st. 4-5). The text is based on “Corde natus ex parentis,” a Latin poem by Marcus Aurelius C. Prudentius (c.348-413).

Prudentius was the greatest Christian poet of his time. … [A]t the age of fifty-seven Prudentius bade farewell to [h]is successful, prosperous life and vowed to spend the rest of his days in poverty. He served the church by meditating and writing, presumably at an unnamed monastery. All of his writings are in poetic form, including learned discussions in theology and apologetics. Most of the English hymns derived from his works, including “Of the Father’s Love Begotten,” were taken from his Liber Cathemerinon (c. 405), which consists of twelve extended poems meant for personal devotions, six for use throughout the hours of the day and six for special feasts.

A personal note: The MG choir has used this hymn in a medley by Tom Fettke at Christmas because it is such a great text on the incarnation of Christ. The tune is very chant-like, challenging yet fun to sing and direct. It is found in our hymnal, No. 118.

The first stanza begins, “Of the Father’s love begotten, Ere the worlds began to be, He is Alpha and Omega, He the Source, the Ending He…”

Read more about this hymn at the Hymnary
Read more about the Hymnary

Building Blocks of Biblical Worship

Calvin Institute of Christian Worship – Worship 101: The Building Blocks of a Biblical Approach to Worship: “Worship 101: The Building Blocks of a Biblical Approach to Worship
John D. Witvliet
Calvin Symposium on Worship 2008

This session explored some of the Bible’s most fundamental teaching about worship, with an aim to equipping participants to teach this material in their own worshiping communities. This session is especially ideal for first-time Symposium attendees, as well as veterans who want to energize their own teaching ministries.”

Worship Team Auditions: A Method by Kim Gentes

Worship Team Auditions (a method) – Kim Gentes – worship leader and writer

10 Core Convictions about Worship

I appreciate the work of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship at Calvin Seminary in Michigan. They are part of what some call the liturgical renewal movement and have been in existence for ten years now. Below is a summary of their convictions about worship after ten years.


Ten Core Convictions About Christian Worship

1. a vivid awareness of the beauty, majesty, mystery, and holiness of the triune God
Worship cultivates our knowledge and imagination about who God is and what God has done. Worship gives us a profound awareness of the glory, beauty, and holiness of God. Each element of worship can be understood through a Trinitarian framework. Worship renewal is best sustained by attention to the triune God we worship.

2. the full, conscious, active participation of all worshipers, in the context of a fully intergenerational community
Worship is not just what ministers, musicians, and other leaders do; it is what all worshipers “do”—through the work of the Spirit in worship. In vital worship, all worshipers are involved in the actions, words, and meaning of worship. God’s covenant promises endure “from generation to generation.” Worship that arises out of an intentionally intergenerational community, in which people of all ages are welcomed as full participants, and whose participation enriches each other, reflects that worship breaks down barriers of age.

For more, click here: http://www.calvin.edu/worship/about/ten/

Related Link
Ten core convictions with related scripture, questions, and resources

Worship Is: Resting From Our Labors

This is the first in a series of “Worship is….” posts tracing worship through the Scriptures. So much has been written and spoken in recent days about worship. Sometimes I get the feeling some of what is being said is not necessarily Scriptural but can’t place my finger on it. So it’s a good thing to continually go back and see what the Scriptures say about anything in life and especially about something as important as worship in the life of the church.

Perhaps the earliest passage concerning worship is the account of God resting on the seventh day of creation.

Genesis 2:2-3 By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.

This tells us initially that:

1. God rested from his work on that day
2. God blessed and sanctified the day by resting in it

The word translated here “sanctified” means “to make something holy; to set something apart; to distinguish it.” Literally, the phrase means essentially that God made this day different. However, in the context of the Law, it means that the day belongs to God; it is for rest from ordinary labor for physical rest and to give more focused attention to God.

How does this inform our worship? Let’s look at the fourth commandment in Exodus.

Exodus 20:8-11 “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. “For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.

This tells us because God rested, we rest. We observe the same pattern of work and rest that God observed. God worked, we work. God rested, we rest. “Keeping the sabbath holy” means keeping it “set apart,” separate, different, from other days as God established it. The day “belongs to” God and is set apart for him alone. Because six days were “enough” for God to do his work, they should be “enough” for us as well.

Advent: Athanasius’ "On the Incarnation"

“Now in dealing with these matters it is necessary first to recall what has already been said. You must understand why it is that the Word of the Father, so great and so high, has been made manifest in bodily form. He has not assumed a body as proper to His own nature, far from it, for as the Word He is without body. He has been manifested in a human body for this reason only, out of the love and goodness of His Father, for the salvation of us men. We will begin, then, with the creation of the world and with God its Maker, for the first fact that you must grasp is this: the renewal of creation has been wrought by the Self-same Word Who made it in the beginning. There’ is thus no inconsistency between creation and salvation for the One Father has employed the same Agent for both works, effecting the salvation of the world through the same Word Who made it in the beginning. “