Reformed Worship

500 years ago, On 31st October, a young monk challenged the status quo of the church by pinning his thoughts to the door of a church in Germany. He challenged the principles of the Roman Catholic church, in particular the practice of charging money for absolution of sins; paying for salvation.

The monk was Martin Luther, and his actions triggered what we now know as the Protestant Reformation in Europe.

500 years later and we are making the same mistakes again on, quite literally, an industrial scale. This time it is not salvation that is up for grabs for a price, but our worship; that feeling of connection with God, the ability to express our faith in creative ways, that artistic expression of eternal gratitude and recognition of who our maker is… is being sold to us.

We can purchase it for 79p a track or £9.99 for an album’s worth of blissful spiritual escapism. If we’re really desperate for a ‘worship fix’ (because of the hard week we’ve had, the difficult circumstances in which we find ourselves, or just that we ‘need’ that warm fuzzy ‘worship’) we can pay out for a ticket for our favourite priests worship leaders’ concerts worship events.

In this environment, worship songs is not so much a bad description of a musical genre that shouldn’t exist as much as it has become a command: worship songs.

Musical expression, singing together, worshipping ‘in spirit and in truth’ are all fantastic and sacred acts in our individual and collective spiritual experience. But the industry that has developed around it is flawed.

To charge people to worship (in the narrowly defined way the industry has taught us to understand the very nature of that worship!) is surely wrong. To have transformed into a commodity material specifically created to facilitate worship experiences – and by definition turn those who purchase into consumers, albeit informed to a greater of lesser extent – is wrong.

Jesus had some very sturn words to say about those in his time who charged the public to worship; “you’ve turned the house of God into a den of thieves!” He threw them out. He removed their means of prohibiting people from worshipping unless they had the right currency, or the right album and the merchandise to go with it. He put an end to that system… and in the creation of this ‘worship industry’ we have merely reassembled the money-changers’ tables and sold CD’s and downloads from them instead.

What would worship look like in a re-reformation era? What would the Church’s gathered expression of worship sound like if we were free to express our worship indigenously in each local congregation instead of feeling coerced into replicating album after album? How different would our churches be if everyone brought to the table something of personal and vulnerable sacrifice instead of hiding behind bland, rehashed, boring lyrics accompanied by over produced backing tracks?

What if the record companies went the way of the indulgences salesmen of the past and worship was reclaimed, re-calibrated, refreshed and reformed. Just as the printing press was the new technology of the Protestant Reformation giving everyone the opportunity to read the Bible for themselves instead of relying on priests, what if we used the technology available to us – the internet, social media, live streaming apps – to distribute worship material across the globe for free?

It’s not about which mountain, it’s not about which record label or which singer, it’s not about the songs or the currency: A time is coming, and has now come when the true worshippers will worship in spirit and in truth.

Reformation.

Advertisements

Why wouldn’t you push the button?

Last night I watched a TV audience despair at a politician for refusing to use nuclear weapons if he was elected to lead the country. After all, it isn’t much of a deterrent if one is reluctant to use it, right? Surely a strong leader is one prepared to ‘Push the button’.

Allow me to remind us what happened the last time someone ‘pushed the button’.

World Map Inked

“And this is what happened on 6 August 1945 at Hiroshima: 8:15am. The streets are full of people; people going to work, people going to shop, people – smaller people – going to school. It was a lovely summer morning, sunshine and blue sky. Blue sky stands for happiness in Japan. The air raid siren sounds. No one pays attention. There’s only a single enemy aircraft in the sky. The aircraft flies across the city. Above the centre, something falls. It’s hard to see – the bomb is very small, two kilograms in weight, a little larger than a tennis ball in size. It falls for ten to fifteen seconds, it falls and falls.

“Then there is a searing flash of light, brighter and hotter than a thousand suns. Those who were looking directly at it had their eyes burnt in their sockets. They never looked again on men or things. In the street below there was a business man in charge of large affairs, walking to his work. A lady, as elegant as she was beautiful. A brilliant student, the leader of his class; a little girl, laughing as she ran. And in a moment they were gone. They vanished from the earth. They were utterly consumed by the furnace of the flash. There were no ashes even on the pavement. Nothing but their black shadows on the stones. Scores of thousands more, sheltered by walls or buildings by the flash, were driven mad by an intolerable thirst that followed from the heat. They ran in frenzied hordes towards the seven rivers of the delta on which Hiroshima is built. They fought like maniacs to reach the water. If they succeeded, they stooped to drink the poisoned stream, and in a month they too were dead.

“Strength is only strength when it makes the weak strong.” – Kosuke Koyama.

“Then came the blast, thousand of miles an hour. Buildings in all directions for kilometres, flattened to the ground. Lorries, cars, milk-carts, human beings, babies’ prams, picked up and hurled like lethal projectiles, hundreds of metres through the air. The blast piled its victims up in frightful heaps, seven of eight corpses deep. Then the fireball touched the earth and scores of conflagrations, fanned by hurricane winds, joined in a fire-storm. And many thousands more, trapped by the walls of flame, that leaped higher than the highest tower in the town, in swiftly or longer agony, were burnt to death. Then all went black as night. The mushroom cloud rose to 40,000 feet. It blotted out the sun. It dropped its poison dust, its fall-out, on everything that still remained not lethal in Hiroshima. And death by radioactive sickness from the fall-out was the fate of those who had survived the flash, the river, the blast, the fire-storm.”

– Philip Noel Baker.

Is this really what we want our elected officials to inflict on anyone? Is this description really an accurate depiction of the effects of ‘strong and stable leadership’?

And let us not wash our own hands of this responsibility. It is not enough to say ‘not in my name’. Our elected officials represent us; they work on our behalf therefore we share responsibility for their actions: If our Prime Minister or President pushes the button… we push the button!

I suggest that the leader in question maybe stronger than some think when, confronted by a room of people apparently comfortable with unleashing the kind of destruction described above, he stayed true to his principles of peace, communication and reconciliation instead of bowing to the vocal ‘Bomb now, talk later’ tactics; one who is prepared to meet, talk and negotiate with those who are different; one who is willing to try something new and not, even hypothetically to win votes, repeat the atrocities of the past.

The truth is simply this, there are no positives in the possession or use of nuclear weapons.

Imagine

Acapella group Pentatonix recently released their take on the John Lennon classic ‘Imagine’ (with a fantastic video painting a wonderful image of inclusion, but that’s for another day!). It got me re-thinking about the lyrics Lennon crafted and the dream he had and it struck me that John totally undermined his opening line.

The song begins “Imagine there’s no heaven, it’s easy if you try”. He then goes on to describe heaven in detail. Allow me to elaborate; the song continues…

No hell below us
above us only sky.
Imagine all the people living for today.

This heaven is established on earth, the sky still beautifully suspended over us. All are living according to Jesus’ words in Matthew 6 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?  Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? …But seek first [God’s] kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.”

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace, you

In heaven ‘shalom’ will be perfectly instituted; absolute peace and wellbeing for all people. No countries, no war or injustice; no death nor pain. No need for ‘religion’ or extremism because God will dwell with his people, and love will be evident for all as we enjoy life in all its fullness. 

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people sharing all the world, you

Poverty eradicated. Generosity and compassion abounding as each member of this ‘brotherhood of man’ – men, women and children – express the full humanity by putting others first and sharing ‘all the world’ with one another.

A contemporary musical classic, definitely. An insight into a poetic and visionary mind, perhaps. An example of missing the wood for the trees, absolutely.

Political Prayer

This post was originally written in 2015. 
In light of the upcoming 2017 election, it seems fitting to re-post and re-pray for our country and its leaders — Jimmy

On 7th May 2015, the UK had the opportunity to vote for its new Government. The votes were counted, the Conservative party won the most seats and Mr David Cameron began another five years in the office of Prime Minister.

Since the results were announced, social media has been flooded with opinions, complaints, rants and viewpoints right across the full spectrum of political persuasion and human emotion. Open letters to Mr Cameron began to fill timelines and various infographics predicted the next five years to varying degrees of tragedy or triumphalism.

My personal reflections are as follows.

Firstly, if you’ve written, or are thinking of writing an open letter to David Cameron, why not actually send him your letter? It strikes me that posting it on Facebook in the vain hope the Prime Minister of the UK will stumble across your Facebook page and hear your concerns is somewhat less effective that sending your views to his house!

Secondly, particularly to my Christian friends, though not exclusively so, we are called to pray for our government and leaders. Regardless of whether we voted for him or his party or not, we should pray for the peace and prosperity of our country and those democratically elected to govern.

But the thought that has challenged me most is this. I think it is excellent that so much discussion has taken, and is taking place amongst communities and on social media. However, the election results are not the final word, they are only the beginning. We need to remain engaged in the political situation of our country (not leave our shores in search of a country with a ‘better’ political/social system according to some ambiguous league table as some have threatened to do). Our politicians and MP’s are elected to represent us. Unless I have fundamentally misunderstood our democratic parliamentary system (in which case, someone please educate me!) our local MP’s need to hear our views, they need to understand what matters to our communities in order to do their job properly and represent us accurately.

If there is an issue that resonates with your heart and beliefs, write or ask to meet with your MP about it. Get involved. “Be the change you want to see” in your community, in your country.

As a pastor of a church, I see the needs in our community and I strive to act in a way I believe Jesus would act – justly, with compassion for all to bring about peace and love for everyone. Some political policies make that task easier, others make it considerably harder. But ultimately, we are called to love one another as we love ourselves. That is not only a task that crosses political divides, racial differences and social backgrounds, but is a vision of hope for every single person to be valued and cared for.

So my prayer is that God would bless David Cameron and his cabinet and government with wisdom to discern what is best for this country as a whole and courage to make the right decisions and to carry out the duties of his office with integrity and compassion.