Making Beautiful Music Together

Using our Gifts to Make Beautiful Music Together

We promised you, dear reader, a follow up to our last blog. The Frog in the Pot. Alas, the Frog would not get out of the pot and has become quite cooked. But we hope to find another soon. Please accept this offering for now.

One in the Spirit.

Jesus prays for his church: “May they all be one, as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in complete unity so that the world may believe you sent me.” (John 17: 21)

Jesus’ promise to his church: “Even if just two of you are in harmony with each other, when you pray for anything, it will be done for you…..” (Matthew 18:19, Our translation)

Need for unity in the church: Often in his letters, St. Paul’s emphasized the need for unity in the church, none more eloquently than his metaphor of the church being like the human body—one body, yet made up of many individual members.

Another Metaphor for the Church Thre are other metaphors that might be especially relevant today. If you’ve played on a sports team or were in a musical group, you’ve felt the thrill of uniting with others to win a game or produce something really beautiful, like Handel’s Messiah. Imagine how thrilled Handel was when he heard his masterpiece performed. Imagine how Jesus’ delights in us when we use our gifts in harmony with one another. There is a place for solos in the church, but the church is a team. Blending our gifts with one another to make beautiful music for Him should be the norm.

Below is a musical group metaphor in I Cor 12 to describe how the church should function

….14 For a band or orchestra is not made up of one instrument alone, but many different kinds. 15 If the oboe player were to say, “Because I cannot play the trumpet, I don’t belong, “that doesn’t hold water. 15 And if the flautist were to say, “Because I am not a bass, I don’t belong, that’s not true either. 17 If the whole band were just the flute, who would provide rhythms? And if all were the bass, who would do the melody? 18 As it is, the composer has written parts for every kind of instruments to play his great music.
19 There would be no band at all if all played the same instrument! ,,,,21 So then, the drummer cannot say to the trombonist, “I don’t need you!” Nor can the guitarist say to the flautist, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, all the instruments are needed. even little ones like the piccolo 23 Now the piccolo player might not seem to be important, but just think how he is needed in a piece like “The Stars and Stripes Forever.”
25 Moreover, band members can’t go off on their own tunes. And even though each instrument is tuned to different keys, they still manage to blend with one another. 26 If one instrument is off key, the whole band suffers as well as the composition. If one player is praised, however, all the others share in the glory.

YOUR COMMENTS ARE ALWAYS APPRECIATED

Our Fascination with the Extraordinary  

Hum Drum.  Most of our lives are lived in ordinary fashion where nothing too unusual happens. When it does, our attention is instantly piqued. We’re driving along I-91, lulled by the road’s monotony, when we see flashing lights ahead.  Fully focused now, we brake to see what’s what. A football game plods along with fans absorbed in their tacos, when a player makes a fantastic grab in the end zone. Immediately the crowd is on its feet, roaring, tacos forgotten.

Fantasy  Let’s face it, we need excitement in our lives and everyday living can be tedious and mundane. I have a neighbor who tells me her drinking problem gets triggered by boredom. Even Christians get drawn into fantasies like pornography, extramarital affairs and TV addiction. It’s often due to ennui (restless dissatisfaction caused by lack of excitement). Producers of TV shows know this about us, so outlandish stuff sells. Some buttons get pushed by Jerry Springer, others by murder mysteries, and sports, but lately supernatural fantasy has skyrocketed..

Supernatural, the TV show features two brothers hunting down demons from hell. Christian girls are captivated by Vampires and Werewolves in the Twilight series. Boys and men are glued to shows about supernatural superheroes pitted against other-worldly villains. (Stan Lee must be laughing all the way to the bank.)  Most awful of the genre, Dominion, turns the Bible on its head. Gabriel is an evil angel who hates humans but needs their bodies to fly around to work mayhem.  Constantine is apparently about a tormented exorcist. Faceoff  is a popular reality show where special effects artists compete to create the most realistic, scariest zombies, demons and the like.

God’s Dream Church  Don’t misunderstand. We aren’t criticizing our need for the extraordinary. It’s part of how God made us. In fact, His church was created to specialize in the supernatural. We believe it is God’s Dream to revitalze His church so that she can call forth the miraculous, signs and wonders that catch the attention of our unbelieving world. Of course the most extraordinary miracle is a church that loves each other as Christ loved us.

But meanwhile, back at First Church, the extraordinary rarely happens nor is even expected. Our pastor once said, “It’s remarkable how the church has managed to make something as extraordinary and miraculous as the resurrection of Jesus Christ so boring.” Originally a miraculous movement that changed the world, the church tends to be a predictable institution that changes little. Tradition and rationalism prevail. The transforming power of God’s supernatural message of Jesus Christ often gets lost in the routines of Sunday morning.

Stuff Ain’t Happening  Over 40 years ago, John Wimber left the Righteous Brothers after Jesus Christ turned his life right side up. He attended a certain church for a while, then  approached a church leader.

“When does the stuff start happening,” he wanted to know?  “What stuff?”  He opened his Bible. “I’ve been reading all these great things in Acts. I just want to know when it begins happening here.”

Disappointed to find nothing did, Wimber prayed, labored and helped get a movement born where stuff did happen, for a while. I’ve attended some of these churches lately and stuff ain’t happening there anymore either.

How did the church get to be so humdrum?  Jesus was an amazing person who did miraculous things, was unjustly executed, came back to life and created an extraordinary movement designed to change the world. What happened to change things? Well, it’s partly the story of the frog in the pot. Don’t know the story? Our next few posts will tell it, exegete it and suggest ways for the church to find her way back to greatness

YOUR COMMENTS ARE VERY WELCOME.

Whatever Happened to Prayer? Part 3

Part 3:  Let’s Recover Our First Love

When people stop talking to each other they automatically drift apart. Communication, as they say, is the life blood of a relationship. Isn’t it the case that when we stop talking to God, we begin to lose our first love for Him? But have you stopped to think that this is also the case when Christians stop praying together? But you say, “Oh, there’s no worry about that, as long as I keep to my private spiritual disciplines.” Yet private and corporate prayer have a symbiotic relationship. Energize the one and you invigorate the other; neglect the one and you diminish the other.

Can We have the Vertical without the Horizontal? Jesus taught that our horizontal relationships in the church directly affects our vertical relationship with God. ”When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love…This is my commandment: Love each other.” (John 15: 9,12).  The apostle echoed the principle: “How can we say we love God if we do not love each other.”  Failure to pray together in the church causes us to drift apart from each other and from God. Remove a coal from the hearth and it dies out. Christ’s scriptural principle is plain as day: Love me, love my body. Love my body, love me.

We need one another. We can’t improve our love relationship with God if we neglect praying with our Christian family. When we neglect praying together, whether it’s the cause or the symptom, we become isolated from each other, thereby violating Christ’s law to “love one another.”

Our Faith is Personal Jesus endorsed the Jewish commands to love God and our neighbor and then added a third—a new command for a new covenant ”Love one another as I have loved you.” Our love relationship with God and others is what our faith is all about. This love is the connection he means us to have in the church family as well as with Him. However, without faith, another word for trust, it is impossible to please God, because if I don’t trust God, how can I love Him? The just shall live by faith.” And, If I do not trust you, how can I love you?

Pray for One Another. When we come to trust each other in the church, we will share our our personal needs in prayer. That’s what makes prayer personal. Yet when we do pray, do we really pray for one another or for third parties whom we often don’t know.

Private or Personal? At the close of a Bible study, the leader asks for prayer requests. Mary says, “Please pray for my Aunt Tillie in Utah who faces surgery.” Of course her aunt’s surgery is important, but she lives 2000 miles away. Our relationship is with Mary, not her aunt.  If we ask Mary, “Why not share your own needs?” she would reply, “Oh, that’s ‘personal.” What she really means is, “my struggles are my own private business.” So it’s privaite for Mary, not personal. This attitude, common in the church, is as far away from being personal as you can get. The   shows our lack of trust in others, which means also, a lack of love.

A Family of Strangers? When we do open up our private world to one another, we enter into the true fellowship Jesus meant for us to have in the church.  When we fail to do so, we remain strangers. Of course, it must be mutual. Gail once shared with me her experience in a women’s group. The leader, the pastor’s wife, said, “Since the Bible teaches we should confess our faults to one another, let’s obey the Word and begin to do that.” There was a long silence until at last Gail courageously shared some personal struggles. When she finished there was dead silence. Finally the leader said, “OK, then, let’s turn to our scripture passage”  Gail was left holding her dirty laundry with no cleansing or healing. She was, devastated.

When we withhold our private needs, we cannot pray for one another and we distance ourselves from each other. It is this horizontal dimension that we need to recover in the church. Praying for one another’s real needs accomplishes that.

   WHATEVER HAPPENED TO PRAYER?  

Part 2: Overcoming the Fear in Prayer 

In our last post we wrote that Christians gathering for prayer has gone the way of the eight track and phone booth. Our goal here is not to criticize, but to explore possible cures for this malaise. We quoted a church leader who said “Christians are so afraid of prayer.” Why? One possible explanation is we are simply out of practice, since it’s the professionals who do much public praying for us. We also offered a cure–in short, church leaders return prayer to the people, by the people and for the people.

The Right to Privacy: But this doesn’t really get to the root of folks’ anxiety about prayer, does it?  We believe an important cause for our fear of prayer is our growing appetite for privacy, which is now considred a right. Our need for privacy is rooted in this strong value we Americans place on individualism and independence.

Consider that many of us learned at an early age to “stand on your own two feet,” a sentiment echoed by the insistence of our two year old, “I’ll do it myself.” Rugged individualism defines our American spirit. At home we barely know our neighbors. In church we sit by strangers. On the road we drive cars with brand new passenger seats. At Starbucks we twitter to strangers, surrounded by folks we’ll never meet  Kids play games by the hour alone while working parents are separated from co-workers by cubicles.

This kind of value on independence, leads to a near-obsession for privacy when it is fueled by electronic technology and its step children, identify theft and Big-Brother-vigilance. But what does all that have to do with prayer? Well, let’s see if the Bible has anything to say on the subject.

Prayer is Private and Corporate. We know Jesus prayed alone on hilltops, but he also prayed in fellowship with his friends. He spoke of the privacy of the prayer closet and gave a special blessing for believers who prayed together, promising his special presence and authority even if only two or three united in his name. (Matt 18: 13-20). We know how early Christians found guidance, comfort, unity and power to witness when they prayed together. They all met together and were constantly united in prayer (Acts 1:13) they were like family to each other, often breaking bread and praying together.(Acts 2:42)  (See also 4:31; 6:4; 12:12).  

But there are also frequent references to individual prayer. Peter went up on the roof of the house to pray (Acts 10;9) As they stoned him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” (7:59). There is strong evidence that private prayer and corporate prayer have a symbiotic relationship. They energize each other. Remove one and the other is greatly weakened. 

 “Prayer is an Intimate Thing” While agonizing in prayer, Jesus longed for his friends to share  intimately in his grief. “Could you not watch with me for one hour?” (Mark 14:37 NLT). The fact that praying together builds intimacy was sharply brought home to me while training for Christian leadership at Cornell University. We were warned about praying alone with a member of the opposite sex. “Prayer is an intimate thing” we were told. “It can lead to other intimacies with serious consequences.” Later a close friend shared with me how praying alone with a boy in college led to her pregnancy.

Praying seriously with one another about important stuff builds and deepens relationships. It breaks down walls that separate us, builds accountability and opens the doors of harmful, hidden things. It is this kind of intimacy that makes praying together scary. For those with a special need for privacy, it’s downright frightening.

Yet we must find a way around it if the cfhurch is to recover it’s power. How can church leaders minister to those of us with a strong preference for privacy? How can they help build trust among members to assist them to overcome anxiety about sharing in prayer? At this point, I’m not sure what the answer is, but I am praying about it and consulting with church leaders about it. Hopefully we will have answers for a future post. Maybe you have some suggestions.

WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO PRAYER?

I can’t speak about what’s going on in believers private prayer closets, but we do know it is rare for believers to gather just for the sake of prayer anymore. Last year I went to a prayer meeting at a large church. All four of us had a great time. By comparison, nearly a hundred attended our pastor’s mid-week Bible studies last week. Why has corporate prayer taken such a back seat in the church?

A staff person of our church asked for our feedback on a proposed training program for new believers. Seeing nothing in the outline on prayer, I suggested it be included in the curriculum. She agreed, adding that people “seem so afraid of prayer.” Why would prayer be a cause of anxiety among modern believers?  Maybe it’s just because we are out of practice.

Here is an observation of a cause for this malaise and some nuts and bolts solutions.

 The Pastoral Prayer  We do have prayer at worship of course, but is it really corporate prayer when the pastor does all our praying for us? Prayer time is even often termed “the pastoral prayer.” Is it any wonder pastors include “people’s prayer proxy” in their job description?.

I once asked a Roman Catholic why she prayed to the saints.  “We don’t,” she insisted. “We ask them to pray for us.” This is not so different from Protestants, except they don’t ask dead saints to pray for them but live professionals. And what kind of answers are we getting from these prayers?

 Prayer that Got Results  Imagine you are back in Jerusalem when Peter and John report to the young church that Jewish leaders are threatening God’s work. Someone suggests they pray and you see Peter stand and say, “Let us pray” and does a pastoral prayer.  Was that Jesus’ idea when he taught we could expect great things when even just two or three believers join together in prayer. (Read about it in Matthew 18: 18-20)

Here’s what really happened:  “When the believers heard it, they all joined together in prayer to God.” (Acts 4:22 GNT).  They intensify their prayers by doing it in one accord, as Jesus urged. What happens? Luke tells us, “the meeting place shook, they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and bravely spoke God’s message. (4:31). Later we read, Many miracles and wonders were performed among the people (5:12) Imagine how attendance would soar at First Church if these kind of things were going on there today!

What can be done to begin to restore this kind of praying in our churches? In a nutshell, we need to give prayer back to the people. Here are some “for instances.”

Prayers of the People   In the seventies, Presbyterians replaced “the pastoral prayer” with “prayers of the people.” We took this to heart in our church. During worship, folks were encouraged to give prayer concerns and then various folks in the pew were invited to pray. Many did and it was warmly welcomed by most and even traditionalists gradually came around to it.

Prayers by the People  We attended a service in Illinois where the pastor boldly broke with tradition. In place of the pastoral prayer, he encouraged us to join up with four or five others, share our concerns and pray together, right there and then. It was a heart-warming experience and a step in the right direction.

Prayers for the People Pastors might launch a “teach us to pray” campaign by doing a series of teaching sermons, encouraging the saints to engage in effective corporate prayer  They could bring pew sitters into the pulpit to lead in prayer. Bible Studies could be introduced on the subject of prayer. Workshops could be created to believers feel comfortable praying together, then ease them into the experience itself.