WORSHIP CAN HOLD OUR GLADNESS AND SADNESS – IN CHRIST ALONE!
Way too many Christians have the notion that worship is about their emotions. If worship were about emotions, then who would ever want to go to a funeral service, especially if they were feeling happy? That would just make them sad. If worship were about emotions, then who when hurting would want to go to a jubilee type celebration? That would just make them mad at those people who act so happy when they are feeling sad. Well, thanks be to God, worship is not about our emotions. Of course, we are human beings and we all have emotions. The Lord made us with that wonderful capacity of emotive expression and sensation. Worship certainly evokes emotions in and from us, and may well help us come to grips with emotions we are feeling. Worship itself, however, is not about our emotions. Rather, Christian worship is about Christ. Our Triune God is at work, as He has been in the past and continues into the future. He is Lord of all! Here is the way Robert Webber puts it so well:
God as the subject of worship acts through the truth of Christ proclaimed and enacted in worship to form me by the Spirit of God to live out the union I have with Jesus by calling me to die to sin and to live in the resurrection. Worship forms me and transforms my life to do God’s purposes in this life in this world, to the glory of God who created me in the first place, and re-created me and the whole community of faith to be the people of his own glory in this world now, and in the life of the world to come, forever.
Robert E. Webber, The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life
(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006), 238-239.
Last week I spent the week working with Watauga Baptist Association in their 36th annual Music School. What a joyous privilege! Every evening was filled with music, sweet fellowship, and preparation not only for the week, but helping church choirs get ready for their Easter season musical presentations. In many ways it would have to be considered glad times. While in the area I had opportunity to visit with worship music ministers, had brunch with Allen Bowling, and celebrated with Mikel Caywood as he welcomed a new grandchild in the world. Gladness!
Then on Thursday afternoon I got a call from Kevin Hamilton telling me devastating news, “Paul, I think Jane Norvell has been killed in a car accident.” What?? My mind would not wrap itself around that thought. Like any horrific news, it took a few hours to catch the breath of reality that this might be so. I tried to call John a couple of times and did finally get to talk with daughter Bethany. It was true. It was sad, hurtful, and still shocking. Follow up conversations with John helped move toward planning and preparation for a service of worship to be held Sunday afternoon. Could her TLC sisters come and sing? Would I help lead in the service? Ugh!! This hurts. Jane is gone from us? Now? We have much left to do. And John….my dear sweet brother, John. What will he do? How can he make it? I never see John without Jane. Oh Lord, please help John
Phone messages….texts…emails….Facebook….overwhelming. I called Ebbie to tell her. She wept….Jane was special…her words were simply, “I loved her.” My word was short, “yep.” Still hurts. Sadness.
But alas, in the midst of the hurt, there was more rehearsal and then a Friday night worship presentation with the Watauga choir(s). Moments spent with friends and colleagues, Deb Gouge, Larry Adams, pastors who sang in the choir all week….that’s right, I said Pastors who sang in the choir! No wonder, look at their encourager, who so encourages me as well, Director of Missions, Jack Roddy. More gladness, more joyful celebration of the Lord of life. More preparation to declare His ultimate victory. “O death, where is your sting?” “O grave, where is your victory?” Faith expressed in worship becoming faith found in worship. Thank you, dear Lord! Friday night’s ending worship at Grace Baptist Elizabethton was followed by a long drive back to middle Tennessee late at night. Time to talk privately with the Lord, sing in the car, and continue fervent prayers for John, Bethany, and Joseph. Meanwhile I am missing the East Tennessee Handbell Festival where Dan Arterburn is leading, while wife, Alice, waits in the hotel, still recovering from weeks of illness, and Charlotte is manning our station, although she too is fighting illness. Lord, help them. Lord, help us. We are weak, but You are strong.
Saturday morning – choir retreat in Mount Juliet with Silver Springs Baptist Church Choir and Minister of Music, young Chris Gregg. Another wonderful group of people, excited with their energetic young music ministry leader, accompanied by one of the sweetest pastor’s wives, Theresa Stephens. More gladness….this group sings out loud and strong. Vowels and consonant talk does not hinder them from singing their praise.
Sunday morning. Up early preparing for the Jackson trip. Early worship at Forest Hills. The Lord knows my need….no choir this morning…Chamber singers singing….I love to hear this fine group, and they are singing a beautiful song I don’t know, but hear important phrases for worship, “we catch our breath at Your glory.” Hmmm….what a thought….His glory renews our breath…astounded at His works. We sing the great hymn, For the Beauty of the Earth, ladies sing the verse, “For the joy of human love, brother, sister, parent, child, friends on earth and friends above…” Jane….now friend above…”for all gentle thoughts and mild.” Sing on! “Lord of all to Thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise!” Gratitude and gladness…sermon from Mark 7-8 by pastor Sam Boyd recounts Jesus’ compassion. That is what Jesus is like. He is compassion.
On to Jackson. Finally get to hug John’s neck. Sadness. Open casket reveals that Jane has on her TLC blouse. Overwhelming. Sing on, dear sister!!!! Sing on!! Eighteen TLC make it to help lead the service as well as nine TMC guys supporting John – others came to visitation on Saturday and many phone calls. This is part of our ministry to one another. Then the service of worship. Powerful testimony of Jane’s life coupled with lots of music, Be Still and Know, Bow the Knee, A Mighty Fortress, O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus, and then the finale, packed congregation stand and sing to raise the roof, In Christ Alone. Yes!! Yes!! In Christ alone my hope is found! Yes! Yes!
Worship is not about me, my emotions, my needs, my wants. It is Christ alone!!
“Til He returns, or calls me home, Here in the pow’r of Christ, I stand.” Doxology! All creatures here below, above ye heavenly host, praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!! Amen!