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“For: The Institute of Contemporary and Emerging Worship Studies, St. Stephens University, Essentials Blue Online Worship Theology Course with Dan Wilt.”

The theological phrase the “Kingdom of God” has been pushed out of its original shape in my mind because of my readings this week.  My interest was especially piqued by Jesus’ words “The Kingdom of God is at hand” that N.T. Wright speaks of in Simply Christian, p.85. I had always considered these words as meaning God’s Kingdom is nearly here, it is yet to come.  We may see glimpses but it is a weakened version at times of what will one day be.  Yet, as I read the text, I felt that perhaps the meaning was much deeper than this.  If something is at hand, it is there, ready to be touched, tapped into, and used.  I don’t often live in this reality.  I pray for God’s Kingdom to come but it is here already in part and in power.  I want to live in that truth more and more and tap into what God has brought to us here and now in his son Jesus.

The theological idea I believe has the most importance for the next 10-20 years is that of God as King.  I find it difficult to behave as a subject under the reign of a sovereign king – I know for myself, I enjoy sitting on the throne of my own life, having total control.  As I read the material, I was again challenged to ask the deep question “if God is my King, what does that look like for me?”

I am challenged most by the notion of God as King.  I don’t struggle so much with knowing God saved me and living out of this truth.  Yet to say He is King means to surrender to His sovereign control over all things, to defer to His judgement, to worship Him, to speak my allegiance and live out of that allegiance in all things.  Can I do that?  Do I truly understand what it means to do that?

I remember as a child at school having to recite the following at weekly school assemblies:

“I love God and my country, I honour the flag, I serve the Queen and cheerfully obey my parents, teachers and the law.” 

No longer are these words spoken at school.  Our focus on allegiance on God and on a Queen/King has dissipated.  What does allegiance to God as my King look like – would it be obvious to others that I serve a risen King who came to save all of humanity?

I am always challenged, each time I engage in the worship experience, whether that be in song or in prayer or in quiet times, to behave as if I could see Jesus.  It is the biggest challenge for me – would I behave any differently if Jesus were here in the flesh?  Would I pray differently, would I worship differently if the King of my life and the King of this universe were standing before me and I could reach out and touch Him?  We would do well to think about this because I know I often attend church and behave as if God is not present.

N.T. Wright. Simply Christian. (London: SPCK, 2006) p. 85.

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“For: The Institute of Contemporary and Emerging Worship Studies, St. Stephens University, Essentials Blue Online Worship Theology Course with Dan Wilt.”

N.T. Wright speaks of the four echoes of God in the world. The echo that most resonates with me as evidence of God’s reality is relationship. In a moment in time we began, in the mind of God, because He desired to be in relationship with us. From the instant we are born and take our first breath, we are invited into relationship with our parents and also with others. It is within the context of relationship that we glimpse God’s heart of love and of mercy. Because of our fragile state on this earth, we know in part what it is to love and to be loved. We know what it is to belong and also to be rescued from our own frailties.

I am always drawn and moved by songs that are about the character of God and His thoughts toward me and all of humanity. Songs like “Breathe” by Marie Barnett, remind me of my deep need of God and also that He has given me the life I live, the breath I breathe. Brooke Fraser’s “Hymn” also brings me back to the truth that God longs for me to dwell where He dwells and to have Him dwell in me. I can so easily live my life in a self-sufficient manner and worship songs that call to mind the need in me for God cause me to stop and again humbly submit to Him in relationship.

There tends though to be a greater focus on celebrating creation and worshiping God’s majesty, celebrating relationship with God and also that God would “open the eyes of our heart” so that we may see more of Him and know more of Him. The aspect or echo of justice is not so prominent in my own worship time or even in the corporate church worship setting I belong to. Do we shy away from justice and singing about this aspect of God because it is the echo that eludes us more? It can matter to us but is perhaps less tangible because we see less evidence of it in society. This is certainly something I would like to ponder more as the weeks go on as I read more and interact more with the experiences of others during Essentials Blue.

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For: The Institute of Contemporary And Emerging Worship Studies, St. Stephens University, Essentials Red Online Worship History Course with Dan Wilt.

Throughout the Essentials Red Course, new life has been breathed into many of the aspects of my faith and I have been particularly challenged to rediscover many symbolic practices, such as Lent and Communion and  recognise the power in celebrating such events.  We must be proactive and ensure that we are not discarding the old and its power to show us the deeper truths of God.

I am challenged to create time and space for God and to be deliberate about it.  I desire in a greater way, for my engagement with God to be more fluid and not limited to designated quiet times or in church.  I hunger to lead my heart toward a greater intimacy with God that defies time and space.

I am prompted to consider the patterns I am teaching my children in regards to both prayer and the value of Scripture and its relevance within contemporary culture.  Dan Wilt speaks of the importance of reflection in The History of Worship Part One (Essentials Red) 1Likewise, when it comes to our own emerging understanding and application of prayer and scripture in our own spiritual journey “we must ask ourselves why we do what we do in life”2.  Am I simply replicating the patterns I have learned or am I open to discovering new and innovative ways to encounter Christ and who He is?  Can I bring my spiritual heritage to bear on the way I teach my children biblical truths? 

Symbolic action is an imperative part of our faith if it is to have life and breath!  What a promise to us of the power of the baptism experience, one that we live out daily as we remember that we have been made new and the old man has died in the waters of baptism.  Living in this truth proves the challenge – the old man loves to rear his ugly head, old patterns weave a thread, old ways of thinking control our actions and thoughts.  I am challenged to daily surrender again to the truth that I am new in Christ and can live in a new way because of that truth.  Focusing on the centrality of our faith in symbolic ways ensures we always remember the relationship into which we have chosen to enter.

Art and Music give a picture and a sound to our faith respectively.  The ability of both of these worship mediums to draw us closer to God cannot be underestimated for they engage both the mind and our emotions.  They can awaken our senses and show us the many facets of God’s character, like light flowing through a diamond, and His creative expression in and through us.

In conclusion, I have been challenged to consider the patterns of the past and to recover the value of symbolic actions and realise again their power to break into my relationship with Christ.  As Gary L. Thomas warns, “we sometimes assume that if others do not experience the same thing, something must be wrong with their faith3. We need to have before us the knowledge that ‘one size does not fit all’ and that we can find and speak the “soul language4 that is spoken in diverse ways so that all who participate in worship, can be drawn to God in new ways.

1.        Wilt, Dan. History of Worship Part One: Essentials Red.

2.        Webber, Robert E. Ancient-Future Time: Forming Spirituality through the Christian Year. (Michigan: Baker Books, 2004), p.47.

3.        Thomas, Gary L. Sacred Pathways. Michigan: Zondervan, 2002), p.16.

4.        Wilt, Dan. Essentials in Worship History: The Language of Art. Essentials Red.

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For: The Institute of Contemporary And Emerging Worship Studies, St. Stephens University, Essentials Red Online Worship History Course with Dan Wilt.

This week I have continued working on my Creative Project for the Essentials Red Course written by Dan Wilt.  For me, the creation of a Faithbook, an album where I record the times, spaces, songs, scriptures, miracles, hopes and dreams that make up my story with Christ, was a powerful exercise in remembering.  What has had a lasting impact upon me during this course and in particular through my readings, has been the concept of the remembering and also of leaving a legacy.  I have realised a need in me to be proactive in calling to mind God’s incredible works and His power in my life.  My faith has increased and I can see the ever-present hand of God on my life in ways I perhaps was not aware of before.

It also became apparent that whilst I am not a worship leader or a songwriter, my Faithbook in itself was an act of worship.  I began praising God again and again for His faithfulness, I saw His plan for my life unfolding as dreams and hopes were again awakened in fresh ways, I saw a new way to thank Him for loving me and never forsaking me.

Please enjoy reading my Creative Project which can be accessed by clicking on this link:

http://sites.google.com/a/essentialscourse.com/projects/instructions/i-will-never-forget

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For: The Institute of Contemporary And Emerging Worship Studies, St. Stephens University, Essentials Red Online Worship History Course with Dan Wilt.

Throughout this week I have been thinking about the diverse nature of our culture and expressions of worship today.  Dan Wilt has spoken in depth about the fact that “diversity is increasing”1 and that the possibilities for expression in worship are ever increasing.  His timely reminder that what we do today will be left as a legacy for generations to come encourages me to take care and consider deeply the path I weave on my journey with God.

In parallel with my reading for Essentials Red, I have been considering again Gary L. Thomas book, Sacred Pathways (Zondervan: Michigan, 2002).  This book encourages readers to see strengths, weaknesses and tendencies in their devotional approaches to God and to learn ways to improve their personal worship life in line with nine key sacred pathways.  You can complete a rudimentary online test at http://common.northpoint.org/sacredpathway.html to discover your predominant sacred pathways.  Thomas’ book highlights the fact that our Christian journey is not a “one size fits all” journey.  I am acutely aware, as a teacher, that every individual learns differently so applying this to how we best encounter and draw near to God, fits for me.  My journey to God and with God is diverse and not at all like that of others.

It fits too that within the worship setting of the church, every believer will be moved in diverse ways.  I witness this often – a particular song will bring someone to tears but not another.  The physical environment affects some people but not others.  As Gary L. Thomas warns, we sometimes assume that if others do not experience the same thing, something must be wrong with their faith2. We need to have before us the knowledge that ‘one size does not fit all’ and that we can find and speak the “soul language3 that is spoken in diverse ways so that all who participate in worship, can be drawn to God in new ways.

 

1.       Wilt, Dan. The Languages of Art and Music (Video). Essentials Red.

2.       Thomas, Gary L. Sacred Pathways. Michigan: Zondervan, 2002), p.16.

3.      Wilt, Dan. Essentials in Worship History: The Language of Art. Essentials Red.

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For: The Institute of Contemporary And Emerging Worship Studies, St. Stephens University, Essentials Red Online Worship History Course with Dan Wilt.

When we experience something daily, it becomes a part of our lifestyle.  An event only experienced once, can easily be forgotten.  This week, I have been encouraged to think again about the power of the Baptism experience in our lives.  1 Corinthians 5:7 reminds us that “..if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”  What a promise to us of the power of the baptism experience, one that we live out daily as we remember that we have been made new and the old man has died in the waters of baptism.  Living in this truth proves the challenge – the old man loves to rear his ugly head, old patterns weave a thread, old ways of thinking control our actions and thoughts.  I am challenged to daily surrender again to the truth that I am new in Christ and can live in a new way because of that truth.

The Eucharist, or the celebration of communion, again reminds us of the sacrifice Jesus made on our behalf, taking our place so that we may live.  Webber clearly describes how the ancient church viewed both Baptism and the Eucharist.  “…baptism was first God’s sign of our union with him and then our sign of embracing this union and its calling to live in the pattern of death and resurrection.1.  Reminding ourselves of this today, in our more contemporary setting, could serve us well.  Focusing on the centrality of our faith, Jesus and all He has done for us, ensures we always remember the relationship into which we have chosen to enter.

1.Webber, Robert E. Ancient-Future Time: Forming Spirituality through the Christian Year. (Michigan: Baker Books, 2004), p. 156-157.

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For: The Institute of Contemporary And Emerging Worship Studies, St. Stephens University, Essentials Red Online Worship History Course with Dan Wilt.

Prayer and Scripture have played an integral part in my spiritual history and my most vivid memory is of our family reading the Bible and praying together when I was young.  My parents were able to bring biblical stories and concepts alive within the context of my life experiences in that moment in time.  Prayer and Scripture were also integrated in a healthy way within the church setting for me.  From an early age, I was taught to read and meditate on the word and to incorporate it into my prayer and worship time. 

Many of the worship songs I remember fondly from my childhood were taken straight from scripture and I can recall bible verses simply by singing such songs in my head.  These are the songs we sang at church and in family worship times around the piano.  I am sure many could testify to this.  I recall memory verse challenges in Sunday School where we not only learned parts of scripture by rote but understood them in context as part of our unit of study.

Within a more contemporary church setting, this integration of prayer and scripture is perhaps not as evident as stand-alone moments. I know that my children are not having the rich exposure to scripture that I did as a child both through its reading and its use in song and prayer.  Yet they are exposed to a more varied expression of worship to and for God than I was and understand that God loves the sacrifice of praise we bring to him in what ever form it takes. 

I am prompted to consider the patterns I am teaching my children in regards to both prayer and the value of the word and its relevance within contemporary culture.  Dan Wilt speaks of the importance of reflection in The History of Worship Part One (Essentials Red)1.  Likewise, when it comes to our own emerging understanding and application of prayer and scripture in our own spiritual journey “we must ask ourselves why we do what we do in life”2.  Am I simply replicating the patterns I have learned or am I open to discovering new and innovative ways to encounter Christ and who He is?  Can I bring my spiritual heritage to bear on the way I teach my children biblical truths?  Stay tuned for further answers to these questions in coming weeks.

1. Wilt, Dan. History of Worship Part One: Essentials Red.

2. Webber, Robert E. Ancient-Future Time: Forming Spirituality through the Christian Year. (Michigan: Baker Books, 2004), p.47.

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