Scripture Verses for Grief & Hope


For Caroline’s Celebration of Life Ceremony I selected and arranged scripture verses; I’ve received several requests for the list of scriptures used in the service, so here is the actual script I developed.  This particular one is for two readers, but could easily be adapted for more (or done by one).  My goal here in arranging these particular scriptures was to explore and display the range of emotions present in scripture, particularly when dealing with the dual themes of grief and hope.

All scripture is taken from the ESV.  When it was read during the service the chapter & verse references were omitted, but I’ve included them here.

Reader #1: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord (Lam 3:22-26)

Reader #2: You formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them. How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I would count them, they are more than the sand (Ps 139:13-18)

Reader #1 & 2: Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints (Ps 116:15)

Reader #1: Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud; be gracious to me and answer me! You have said, “Seek my face.” My heart says to you, “Your face, Lord, do I seek.” (Ps 27:7-8)

Reader #2: Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? (Ps 42:11a)

Reader #1: The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish. (Ps 116:3)

Reader #2: We do not want you to be uninformed about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.      (1 Thes 4:13-14)

Reader #1: From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth (Ps 121:1b-2) For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift me high upon a rock. (Ps 27: 5) God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. (Ps 46:1a)

Reader #2: I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope (Ps 130:5) For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption. (Ps 130:7b) Jesus said. “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. (John 11:25-26)

Reader #1: For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. (1 Cor 15:21-22)

Reader #2: So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. (2 Cor 4:16-5:1)

Reader #1: When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory” “O Death, where is your victory? O death, where is your string?” (1 Cor 15:54-55) Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?

Reader #2: No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 8:35, 37-39)

Reader #1: For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. (Rom 8:14-19)

Reader #2: Jesus said, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:1-3, 6)

Reader #1: So if God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Rom 8:31-33) So be still, and know that I am God. (Ps 46:10), and give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! (Ps 106:1)

Reader #2: On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces (Is 25:6-8)

Reader #1: Behold, I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” (Rev 21:2-5)

Reader #1 & 2: Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. (Ps 42:11)

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Words Matter


We often talk about how words have the power of life or death, but I’m not sure we actually believe that the words we say really matter all that much, at least when it comes to worship.  For if we did I think we’d say (and sing) very different things than we often do.

I’m often bothered by what I call the “me” focus focus in worship  While it’s not something I’ve written on lately – actually, in a very long time – it is still something that I spend much time contemplating and praying about.  I struggle with trying to change people’s focus and help them to see that while they may feel like they are worshiping God because they are having a very real emotional experience, their words would suggest otherwise.

Take, for example, a popular worship song I hear on the radio and in churches: Healer.  Now before I make it sound as if I hate the song or if the song should never be sung in a church let me assure you I don’t hold to either of those beliefs – I’m simply going to use this song as an illustration to a larger point I want to make (specifically, that words matter). If you’re not familiar with it, here’s a video of it so you can watch (and listen to) it.


Did you catch the chorus?

I believe you’re my healer, I believe you are all I need, I believe.

I believe you’re my portion, I believe you’re more than enough for me.  Jesus you’re all I need.

What could I possibly have wrong with those words?  It’s really quite simple: it’s the first two words “I believe.”  Go back and listen to the song again – it starts as a direct proclamation to Jesus (“You hold my every moment…”), but then instead of proclaiming truth we start talking about what we believe.  Too bad in our society and culture what we “believe” doesn’t seem to hold much water anymore – it’s understood by most as nothing more than an intellectual ascent to an idea, but whether that idea (or ideal) has any impact in our everyday lives is pretty much up for grabs.  Do you think I’m over-stating this?  Tell me, what would your spouse (parent, child, friend) say if you looked at them and said, “I believe I love you.”  What kind of statement is that?  You believe you love me?  Why not just tell me you love me?

And I have to wonder if that’s what Jesus thinks and feels when he hears us utter these words of “belief”.  Why can’t we just say to him, “You are my healer.  You are my portion.  You are enough for me.” rather than infect them with the words “I believe”?  I understand the intent here is probably to make it personal so that we perhaps “own” the words and internalize them.  But the fact is that’s now how our minds work – in our culture to say “I believe” is a way to distance ourselves from the idea and weaken it; it’s a way to say say that what we are talking about is really just our perception of reality while acknowledging that our perception may be false.  Let’s get political for a moment to illustrate the point: which is more offensive in today’s culture – to say, “Gay marriage is wrong” or to say “I believe gay marriage is wrong”?  It’s the former – because it makes a claim as fact, while the latter is simply my own belief, or preference, or interpretation.   Or let’s flip it around…  “Gay marriage is right and should be allowed legally” versus “I believe gay marriage is okay and that we should allow it legally”.

Are you starting to see the difference?  One allows for argument because it claims a truth while another simply subscribes to a personal opinion.

Ironically, even the secular world realizes this.  Check out the following advertisement about the power of words:
A friend of mine recently told me of a blog post with the title, Stop Singing Oceans which reinforces this idea that our words matter.  And I can’t disagree with him (or the author of the post)!

So how does this words matter stuff related to what I’ve called the “me” culture in worship?  Simple.  The focus of the words in the song Healer I quoted above have a very clear focus: the person singing.  The lyrics themselves do not point to the healer (well, at least not for all but the last phrase of the chorus), they focus on the one holding the belief.  And that, dear friends, is a huge difference.  If our focus should be on Jesus – who he is and what he has done – then why would we allow it be infected with any hint of us?  The Bible has a very clear definition of anything that we place before God – it’s called idolatry.  Call me a cranky old-timer if you want (though I’m certainly not old :)), but I just get so tired of listening to Christian radio and singing songs in worship services that seem more focused on us than they do on God.

Words matter – they literally matter.  Not just because they are both a reflection of what we are thinking but also because they direct our thoughts.  But even more than that, words matter because they have a spiritual life to them.  Must I remind you that Jesus was called The Word?  Must I remind you that God created the entire universe by speaking it into existence?  Or that the Bible is called God’s Word?  Or that we are told that “The Lord gave the word“?

And just in case you’re still doubting me, I challenge you to try something.  For the next week when you talk to other people – whether Christians or not – instead of using the universal (and often less-offensive) term “God” try actually using the name “Jesus”.  What you’ll most likely find is that if you don’t speak Jesus’ name verbally very often but rather default to “God”, “Lord,” or some other generic term, that saying the word “Jesus” is uncomfortable and feels strange.  Why?  Because there is power in the name of Jesus, because our words matter – the literal, individual words we choose.  And our enemy knows this.  He knows that as long as we don’t use the name “Jesus” there is ambiguity in our speech.  He knows that when he convinces us to talk about “our beliefs” that he has disarmed us because we no longer claim The Truth but rather A Truth.

And that, my friends, is not a place I want to be.

Me-Centered Worship


I have just finished reading the story of the Exodus – where God takes on Pharaoh and miraculously delivers his people from Egypt by performing 10 wonders (or plagues, depending on which end you are on!), culminating in the awe-inspiring parting of the Red Sea.  Having been working through this for a couple of weeks now, the drama has continually been building up to the point where the people finally experience the full salvation of God from the hands of Egypt and get to watch as the Lord destroys the Egyptian army in the blink of an eye when they find themselves at the bottom of the sea.  And then we arrive at chapter 15 of Exodus:

Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord. They said:

I will sing to the Lord,
for He is highly exalted;

This seems so simple, and I’ve written about it before, but for some reason it jumped off the page at me today.  Here in Exodus we have the first recorded song in scripture, and I want to spend a minute looking at just the first line.  Do you notice why the people sing?  It’s because “He” is highly exalted.  Other translations say it’s because “He has won a great victory” or “He has triumphed gloriously”, but what is important is to notice that it’s because of Him.

Seems simple enough, yet as I thought about this I reflected on how backwards we have it in our culture.  Our culture is so self-focused and me-centered, that we really think worship is about us.  Not just in our songs (I’d be curious to take modern worship songs and even old hymns to count the number of times “I” or “Me” is mentioned rather than “Him”, “He”, or “You”), but in our attitudes.  Why don’t we sing in church?  Here are some reasons I’ve heard and continue to hear:

  • I don’t like the style
  • I don’t feel like it
  • I can’t sing very well
  • I can’t hear myself (it’s too loud)
  • I hear the person next to me (who can’t carry a tune and distracts me)
  • I don’t like the song
  • I don’t know the song
  • I can’t sing this song – it’s too hard
  • I _________________ <fill in the blank>

It’s me-centered worship.  Two years ago I wrote specifically about men singing in worship services, and it still irks me.  Our worship shouldn’t be dictated, determined, or driven by us (preference, emotional state, etc).  Our worship is to be dictated, determined, and driven by the God we serve.  Look back at Exodus 15:1 – the people sang to the Lord for the sole purpose because he deserved it.

Not convinced yet?  Think it’s easy because they had just experienced the miracle of the Red Sea crossing?  Take a look at these verses (which I also read today):

Psalm 61:3, “for You have been a refuge for me, a strong tower in the face of the enemy.”

Psalm 62:1-2, “I am at rest in God alone, my salvation comes from Him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I will never be shaken.”

And then look at Psalm 63:1-8

God, You are my God; I eagerly seek You.
I thirst for You;
my body faints for You
in a land that is dry, desolate, and without water.
So I gaze on You in the sanctuary
to see Your strength and Your glory.

My lips will glorify You
because Your faithful love is better than life.
So I will praise You as long as I live;
at Your name, I will lift up my hands.
You satisfy me as with rich food;[a]
my mouth will praise You with joyful lips.

When I think of You as I lie on my bed,
I meditate on You during the night watches
because You are my helper;
I will rejoice in the shadow of Your wings.
I follow close to You;
Your right hand holds on to me.

Look again at verse 4…. David says he lifts his hands why?  Because he feels like it?  Because the key change in the music demands it?  No, he lifts his hands because of God’s name.  In other words, because of God.

Worship isn’t for us, it’s for Him.  And it’s not for Him because we feel like it, but because he deserves it (and he deserves it whether we feel like it or not).  Recently I listened to a sermon by a former pastor of mine who now serves at A2 Church in Birmingham, Alabama and was so profoundly challenged and encouraged by it I forwarded the link on to the band leadership and the general leadership at my church (groups of which I’m involved).  Of particular interest to me was the 2.5 minute excerpt between about 3:25-6:05 where the pastor starts talking about the importance of Sunday.

And here’s my conclusion based of my reading and as I reflect on the sermon linked above (which I encourage everyone to listen to): until we can see for God for who he is, until we can set aside ourselves in worship, until we can deeply and truthfully begin to comprehend that the resurrection of Jesus means something beyond ourselves and our personal salvation then our “worship” will always be me-focused and me-centered.  Until we walk into church and realize that we don’t sing because we want to or because we feel like it but rather because God deserves it then worship in our churches will always be driven by performance-ism and have a self-centered focus.  In short, if you can listen to just the first 6 minutes of the sermon linked above and NOT have an overwhelming, emotional, and fully human response leading to awe and amazement, then you need to examine and reflect on who you think God is and what your relationship to him is like.  Worship isn’t driven by us and who we are, it’s driven by God and who he is.

We don’t worship for any other reason that because God deserves it.  To not worship for any reason is to suggest that God is undeserving and our feelings, thoughts, and attitudes are higher than he is.  And the word used in scripture for considering something higher than God (giving worship to anything but him) is idolatry.

 

A Response to Mark Gungor


Last week a friend of mine shared Mark Gungor’s post titled Attention All Worship Leaders. Musicians and Singers.  In it, Gungor identifies four “big problems when it comes to music” in the church today.  While I agree with some of what he says in the post, I believe he’s completely off base in a major way when he talks in big terms about the role of music leaders in the church.  Some of what he says is, well, just down-right disheartening and, to be quite honest, I’m glad I don’t attend his church – and if I did, I think after reading this post I would have to seriously reconsider whether I did or not.

My major disagreement with him starts fifth paragraph of his second problem.  He writes,

In my church, musicians are on the stage for one reason: They can sing or they can play—period.  They are not pastors, apostles, prophets, evangelists or teachers—they are musicians. They hold no special status like that of an elder or deacon. Quite frankly, their spiritual status is of little matter and in some cases, not required at all.  We don’t put the musicians on our platform through a spiritual filter anymore than we would ask that of the construction workers who built the building.    We do not hire a construction worker based on the condition of his heart, but on the status of his skill.  So it is with our musicians. (emphasis mine)

I can not disagree with him more.  The spiritual status of the musicians on his stage are of primary importance.  Gugnor’s position here reflects a key misunderstanding of the role of music in worship.  Let’s assume for a second that everything is about the music.  If that’s the case, then Gungor’s position is perfectly defensible and even understandable.  If what you are looking for is people to lead and perform music, then, yes, find the best musicians you can find regardless of their character.

But, if you are looking for worship leaders to lead people then character is the utmost importance!  Here’s the point: worship leaders are not called to lead musicthey are called to lead people.  Now that doesn’t mean they have to have “special status like that of an elder or deacon,” nor do they have to be “priests of worship” or have a special “anointing” or “power”.  What they do need to understand, though, is how to relate to people.

If you think I’m misunderstanding him, read these excerpts from his post:

It is always ideal and preferable to have a committed believer lead the music; one who understands who God is and what it is we are trying to do.  But at the end of the day they are up there for one overwhelming reason: They have musical skill….Again, our singers and musicians are up there because they can sing or play—period, not because they have some unique Old Testament version of an “anointing”. (emphasis mine)

Don’t misunderstand me – I’m not suggesting that you can put someone on stage with no musical skill who has a deep walk with the Lord, because both are needed.  What I am saying, though, is that musical skill does not trump one’s walk with the Lord or their leadership ability (though one’s walk with the Lord should certainly trump musical skill, contrary to what Gungor says).

While he’s got plenty of other statements in his blog post that I disagree with, my point here is not to go line-by-line in rebuttal of his position.  I will ask this final question, though, and I’d honestly love to hear (or read) the answer…  Gungor writes,

[C]onsider this: Many (if not most) of the musicians you hear on Christian recordings are not believers in Jesus at all.  Some of them, frankly, are quite accomplished heathens and pagans (I know—I’ve met them).  You think when you hear that big string section on your favorite worship CD that they are all committed followers of Christ?  Hardly.

I’d like to know who he’s talking about here – which artists that I listen to are accomplished “heathens and pagans?”  I’d honestly like to know.  This is not something you can say without actually backing it up with some truth.  And I’m curious, has Gungor called them out on their “heathen and pagan” practices?  Does he pray for them?  Has he challenged them?  Has he brought other believers in to hold these people accountable since due to their hypocrisy they will actually suffer even more in Hell than if they just lived in open rebellion to God?

Again, Gungor’s position is, at it’s heart, a basic misunderstanding of the role of the worship leader in the church.  If leaders are called to lead music then, yes, he’s spot-on in his arguments.  But leaders are called to lead more than music.  They are called to lead people.  And that, Mr. Gungor, is a completely different role than the one you apparently desire at your church.

If you’re looking for proper perspective on the role of the worship leader, I would recommend avoiding Gungor’s post and instead reading the post entitled 4 Characteristics of Great Worship Leaders by Laura Singleton.

Perspective


About 8 months ago I was first introduced to the song Forever Reign by Hillsong, and, to be completely honest, I didn’t care for it.  The phrase that particularly frustrated me (for lack of a better term), was found in the chorus: “Oh, I’m running to Your arms, I’m running to Your arms. The riches of Your love will always be enough. Nothing compares to Your embrace, Light of the world forever reign!”

If you’ve followed my blog for any amount of time, you know a frequent focus of my posts is worship.  I actually feel I’ve been rather silent on the issue for several months, due in large part to no longer serving in an official capacity as a church worship leader but also just because I’ve not been blogging much lately.  One of my criticisms of much modern worship music has always been the lyrics, and I’m in the camp of those who sometimes feel like worship songs sometimes sound more like “prom date music” than they do words of adoration to the King of Kings.

That was, honestly, my first reaction to this song, in particular the phrase quoted above.  For several months I struggled with the song because of this vision it created in me – a song I didn’t, as a male, feel comfortable singing to Jesus, who walked the earth as a man.  It just seemed… well… wrong.  It was one of those songs that I categorized as “more appropriate for women” but not necessarily a good song for men.

As I prayed and meditated on this, though, I asked God why I struggled with singing certain songs.  I asked questions such as, “Do I really love God as much as I say I do if I don’t feel comfortable singing these words?”  But I never felt like the answer to that question was in the negative; what I sensed God telling me,though, was that the answer was in how I was viewing Him and understanding the text myself – it was all in my perspective….

One day I received a new “vision”, so to speak, a new perspective.  Instead of seeing the text in a clearly romantic light (that “prom date” idea), I saw it as the love between and father and his children (or, more specifically, between a child and his father).  There is little I enjoy in this life more than to see the look on my daughters’ faces as they run up and jump into my arms.  One day when I came home from work and they did this I realized they could be singing these words about our relationship: that they were running to their daddy’s arms and wanted to be held by him (which they do all the time).

It was at that moment I realized I could say the same about my Heavenly Father.  I didn’t need to see these words as a twisted eros type of love (not that I ever did because I didn’t, I just struggled with finding a suitable alternative).  I could see these words as a little kid running up to his daddy and jumping into his daddy’s arms.  One of my favorite descriptions of prayers is, “If you want to know how to pray just watch how a little kid talks to her daddy.”  So I guess in the same vein, I’ve realized that if you want to know how to view yourself as truly believing the text, “I’m running to your arms,” view it as a little kid running to her daddy.  This new perspective changes everything.