worship and the gospel

Worship and the Gospel Story

[Written by Jeff Koonce]

Do you ever think about why our worship service at Cross Creek is the way that it is? Why do we do the things we do, pray the things we pray, or sing the songs we sing?

Every week we tell the story of the gospel, the good news that Jesus Christ was sent to rescue God’s people from sin and death. It’s not enough for us to just tell this story once and move on. We need to hear the narrative of the gospel every single week. Why do we need to be reminded of this all the time? Martin Luther said, “Every sin since the beginning of the world has been unbelief and ignorance of Christ”.

Since it’s our nature to turn away from Christ and back toward ourselves, we forget the story of God’s creation, Adam’s Fall, the redemptive work of Christ and our hope for the restoration of all things by God almost as quickly as we hear it. Every week we tell the story of the gospel again with the goal that our worship service is habit-forming, aiming our hearts and minds toward the right end, Jesus Christ.

To this end, we weave a thread of gospel narrative through our liturgy, the form of our worship – the readings, songs, prayers and other elements –  retelling the gospel story through the theme of a service. In particular, we choose songs for their substance over their style, popularity, or personal preference. As a result, our singing in worship is not a diversion of beautiful sounds between moments of talking but continues the gospel story by engaging our hearts, our minds and even our bodies in worship.

And by hearts, I do mean emotions. I know we, as Presbyterians, sometimes scoff at that word, but emotions are not bad; they are part of our God-given make-up. In his book, The Worship Pastor, Zac Hicks states, “Emotionless worship is just as toxic to our faith as haphazardly emotional worship. We are gut- and heart-based creatures before we are head-based intellectuals.” Our emotions simply need to be directed in the right place at the right time.

In worship, we realign our love and emotions toward God. Historian and theologian Dr. Ashley Null says, “What the heart loves, the will chooses, and the mind justifies.” Our hearts lead the way and it is through music that we can express a full range of true emotions: joy, grief, sorrow, relief, and thankfulness. The Christian life is not easy, but it is good. We should take our cues from the Psalms, which are full of varied emotions, and, with truth and confidence, worship our Lord with the full range of our hearts.

We start with our hearts and emotions, but we do not end there. Our minds and our intellects are engaged during worship as well. Through their the richness and depth, the hymn texts we sing articulate and teach the gospel from a different perspective. Words combined with music illuminate a new depth of meaning that words alone cannot do while singing focuses our attention and aids in remembering. How many times have you walked out of service whistling the sermon?

Singing also physically engages our bodies in worship. We come to know the story of the gospel, not only by having it articulated verbally and conceptually to us but by participating in it. So it is through song that we share in the life and activity of the church by coming together as one body to lift one voice in prayer and praise to God, our Creator, and Jesus Christ our Redeemer. Singing is praying, and congregational singing is corporate prayer. Augustine is credited with saying “Whoever sings prays twice.” When we don’t know what to pray, we let the words of the songs we sing guide us and teach us to pray.

Therefore, when words alone are not enough to express our awe and wonder over who God is and what he has done sing:

“The heavens declare Thy glory,
The firmament Thy power;
Day unto day the story
Repeats from hour to hour;
Night unto night replying,
Proclaims in every land,
O Lord, with voice undying,
The wonders of Thy hand.”
The Heavens Declare Thy Glory

or to express, grief and shame over our sins sing:

“From the depths of woe, I raise to Thee
The voice of lamentation;
Lord, turn a gracious ear to me
And hear my supplication;
If Thou iniquities dost mark,
Our secret sins and misdeeds dark,
O who shall stand before Thee?
O who shall stand before Thee?”
Psalm 130 (From the Depths of Woe)

or to express our joy and gratitude for our salvation through Jesus sing:

“Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.”
Amazing Grace

or to express our longing and hope for God making all things new sing:

’Mid toil and tribulation, And tumult of her war,
She waits the consummation Of peace forevermore;
Till, with the vision glorious, Her longing eyes are blest,
And the great Church victorious Shall be the Church at rest.
The Church’s One Foundation

Sing, Cross Creek Church, and sing loudly!

“Oh, sing to the LORD a new song;
sing to the LORD, all the earth!
Sing to the LORD, bless his name;
tell of his salvation from day to day.”
Psalm 96:1-2
bless the lord at all times

I Will Bless the Lord at All Times

[Written by Jeff Koonce]

I will bless the LORD at all times;
his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
Psalm 34:1

I will bless the Lord at all times. I don’t know about you, but this can seem incredibly difficult. All times? Continually? Really? David, the writer of this Psalm, sets the bar pretty high for the rest of us. Granted, it’s easy for us to praise the Lord when things are going well when we feel good about our life and the blessings He’s given us. We are grateful for family and our health, our jobs, and our security.

What about those times when things aren’t going so well? Maybe you’re depressed, lonely, angry, grieving, upset with how the way things have turned out. Is His praise continually in your mouth during those times? We are more likely to look inward to ourselves; on our shame, fear, and failures. Or we look for someone to blame. David is a normal person. In himself, he has no special powers that we do not possess as human beings. His struggles are the same as our struggles. So how did David do it?

I sought the LORD, and he answered me
and delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant,
and their faces shall never be ashamed.
This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him
and saved him out of all his troubles.
Psalm 34:4-6

David sought the Lord and was delivered from his fears. In the midst of our difficulties and struggles, we should not look inward, but upward. We, too, should seek the Lord. For us, this means seeking him through prayer and His Word. And as we allow His Word to shine a light into the darkness of our hearts and the power of the Holy Spirit to move in us and reveal the Gospel at work in our lives, we begin to see and trust that God is good and faithful, even in the hard things. When we rest in that promise, it’s small step to bless the Lord at all times, in all circumstances, and praise Him continually.

Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!
Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!
Psalm 34:8

This idea of praising God in the midst of dire circumstances is the theme of a song we, the Hymn Collective, have been working on recently. “Hold on to Me” was written by Ashley Self during one of those difficult times in life when you just don’t know what to do or say. Ashley and his wife, Staci, lost their daughter, Lily Grace on the day she was born in 2012. Ashley wrote this song that night in the hospital and when we got around to recording an album we all knew that this song had to be a big part of that project.

We are happy to have a finished version to share with everyone and we hope it serves as a reminder that no matter how bad it seems, seek the Lord, rest in Him, and praise Him continually. I will bless the Lord at all times.

The LORD is near to the brokenhearted
and saves the crushed in spirit.
Psalm 34:18

Hold on to Me
Words and music: Ashley Self, 2012

It’s not enough to know you love me when my heart hurts this way.
When I don’t feel your presence, I don’t know what to pray.
Right now, all I feel is empty inside and afraid this pain won’t ease.

Hold on to me;
Wipe these tears from my face in my faltering faith I cry,
Hold on to me;
In my weakness, be strong; I can’t stand or even breathe.
Hold on to me.

People try to explain it; they say she’s safe in your hands.
But I can’t help but question if this was your plan.
Right now, all I feel is empty inside and afraid this pain won’t ease.

Did you know at night that I’m afraid to close my eyes?
I see her face so clearly, and I believe the lies.
If this be a dream, awaken me that I may rise and praise thee.

“Hold on to Me” can also be found on iTunes and Spotify.