I AM the Door: Reflections on the Gospel of John

            There are so many things I could comment on about John’s gospel that it’s hard to know where to start! I’ve long been intrigued by the way it opens, not with a narrative account of Jesus’ birth like Matthew and Luke; and not without preamble as in Mark’s gospel. John instead takes the time to introduce his readers to Jesus by directing them back to Genesis chapter 1… “in the beginning…”.  He states that Jesus (the Word) is God, which Jesus Himself also claimed throughout His ministry. These statements, as revealed in the gospels and in John in particular, are often lost on modern-day, non-Jewish readers, but to the readers and hearers in that day the intent and meaning behind Jesus’ claims would have been both crystal clear and shocking. His use of the phrase “I Am” was directly and deliberately correlated to God’s name for Himself as revealed in His conversation with Moses (Exodus 3:14), which the Jews would have immediately recognized. It’s pertinent to note that Jesus didn’t merely make these statements verbally, but He also communicated these truths by His actions. For instance, He stated, “I am the bread of life”, and also miraculously fed thousands of people. He claimed to be “the light of the world”, and healed a blind man, literally illuminating that man’s world!  

            I think one of the things I notice more now than I used to is the depth and character of Jesus’ personality. He’s not the dry, boring, humorless man that is so often depicted in movies and paintings; and even by many Christians I’ve encountered over the years, including myself at times. He overturned the status quo (and continues to do so), in much the same way he overturned tables in the temple. He cared very little about what was culturally and socially acceptable. He spoke to women and children, slaves and foreigners. He didn’t approach His conversations with people in a scripted fashion. Every encounter He had was uniquely tailored to that individual.  He asked lots of questions, not because He needed the information but because the other person needed to be drawn out or challenged in some way, yet always with the other person’s best interest in mind. One of my favorite passages is in chapter 8 where the Pharisees brought a woman to Him caught in the act of adultery (btw…How did they know when and where to find her?… Where was the man who was also committing adultery?… This “testing” of Jesus reeks of calculated, arrogant antagonism toward Jesus and indifference toward the woman.).  Jesus’ handling of the situation is brilliant, in that He upholds the validity of Old Testament law while at the same time demonstrating the New Testament mercy that He alone can provide.

            Another passage that stands out is Jesus’ encounter with Mary following the death of her brother, Lazarus (chapter 11).  I think people often believe that they’re not allowed to express to God when they are angry or upset about something, but here in this account, in verse 32, Mary blurts it out… “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  She’s angry and confused, questioning Him for His apparent failure to arrive on time. She knows who He is and believes in both His goodness and His power, but in that gut-wrenching moment her faith is in conflict with her experience.  He of course responds with compassion. He weeps, I think, partly in loving empathy toward her in that moment in time, and partly for the brokenness of our fallen world that brought death, in all its forms, that we were never intended to experience. I appreciate the reminder that we can and should be genuine in our relationship with Him. That we can cry and doubt and ask Him questions and even express hurt or anger, and He responds with grace and mercy.  He also reminds us, as He did Mary, that “if you believe, you will see the glory of God” (v 40). This doesn’t mean that things will always get better immediately. They often don’t. But it does mean that we can trust Him completely, even in our waiting. Ultimately, Jesus responded by going to the cross on our behalf and offering permanent restoration and resurrection to us all.

“And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written.”

John 21:25, NASB

Michelle Haywood Smith is a Jesus follower, image bearer, ezer, worship leader, vocalist, acoustic guitar player, aspiring poet & songwriter, blogger, reader, perpetual learner, chocolate acquisition specialist;)….and also a daughter, sister, wife, mother & friend. 

Faith in the Midst of Uncertainty

Clarity…

For those of you who know me, you know that I like order. And planning. I like to know what the expectations are and how to get where I’m going. I like to be prepared for any and all contigencies that may arise. I like it when I feel confident. My organizational skills are off the charts. In a lot of contexts this is great, right!? In work? Check! In school? Check! In all that administrative/ministry/behind-the-scenes-stuff? Check! In my faith as a follower of Christ!? Um.. well… not necessarily.

The Lord has been teaching me a lot in recent months about clarity. I’ve been looking back over the course of my life and my journey with the Lord and have realized that very often my prayers have included a request for clarity…whether for myself, or as I have prayed for and with others. I have literally used that word, “Lord, please give clarity regarding…. “. It seems like a reasonable request, right? Wise, even. After all, if we have clarity we can plan, and organize, and “be prepared for any and all contingencies”. We have a decision to make, or something has happened, and we want to know what to do or how it will turn out. Sometimes clarity comes in our situations, I love it when that happens. But oftentimes it doesn’t. Perhaps that’s even the case more often than not. We’re unsure what the next moment will bring. We’re left wondering if we’ve made a right choice. Or maybe a decision we made previously doesn’t turn out well and then we’re angry because the Lord could have prevented it. He could have shown us what would happen and then we would have (presumably) made a different choice.

Of course, we should seek the Lord’s direction, and absolutely we need to be grounded in the truth of His word and engaged in loving community with other Christ-followers. But, when we place our faith in our own ability to see and understand clearly (a form of idolatry, btw), we’re needlessly setting ourselves up for fear and confusion during those times and situations when we can’t see and when we don’t know.  I had thought, in my requests for clarity over the years, that I was demonstrating my faith in the Lord. In some ways I still think I was… but in the past few years He’s been pressing me to go deeper. To trust Him more. To not suddenly worry when the path becomes obsure. To place my faith in Him. To believe in the goodness of His character, and not in my own ability to think or see clearly.

I no longer ask the Lord to give me clarity.  Jesus can provide it if He wills, but what I seek now is His presence. I don’t ask Him to erase my doubts, I ask for deeper faith in the midst of my doubts, and a more abiding, patient trust…

I think one of the reasons I find my calling and role as a worship leader so compelling is because I am personally moved and ministered to by the Lord through music and the arts. I always have been. I listen to tons of music and have many favorites. Hillsong Worship released a song last year titled New Wine, with a lyric line that says:so I yield to You and to Your careful hand, when I trust You I don’t need to understand....” That stung the first few times I heard it. But.. it’s becoming the posture of my heart, and I hope it’s yours too.

Michelle Haywood Smith is a Jesus follower, image bearer, ezer, worship leader, vocalist, acoustic guitar player, aspiring poet & songwriter, blogger, reader, perpetual learner, chocolate acquisition specialist;)….and also a daughter, sister, wife, mother & friend. 

So You Want To Be A Worship Leader?

“This is a trustworthy saying: ‘If someone aspires to be a church leader, he desires an honorable position.'”  

So you want to be a worship leader. It may not be what you imagine.

Being a worship leader can be pretty awesome. Those of us who have this responsibility recognize how blessed we are that the Lord would allow us to serve Him and His people in this way. That we get to serve Him doing something we enjoy so much is truly remarkable.

Being a worship leader can also be really hard. Preparation is time-consuming. We miss out on time with family. The tools of the trade can be expensive. It’s impossible to please everyone, even though we wish we could. As worship leaders we’re on the spiritual battle front-lines and Satan doesn’t want us to succeed. There is so much more to the job, as critical as it is, than the 30 or so minutes spent on that platform each week. So. Much. More.

Being a worship leader is a calling. It may or may not be your occupation too. If it is that’s great. But the source of your paycheck is irrelevant and has no bearing on whether or not you are called and gifted by the Lord to pastor His people as a worship leader.  Yes, the worship leader role is a pastoral one! And according to the verse noted above from 1 Timothy, desiring to serve and lead His church is a good thing! Not every Christian musician or vocalist is necessarily called to lead worship though. There are a variety of worthwhile ways that a person can use their musical and creative gifts to serve the Lord and other people that don’t involve leading in an organized church setting. And I’m so grateful for that! What a bummer it would be if we didn’t have Christian creatives using their gifts to glorify and honor the Lord across the spectrum of artistic fields!

Music is one of my very favorite aspects to God’s creation! It’s amazing! We see throughout Scripture God’s people utilizing music in praise and worship. But worship isn’t about music. Instead it’s a tool that we use. It is important that we play and sing with skill (Psalm 33:3), but it isn’t for the sake of impressing other people. It’s about honoring the Lord with our best. Because He is worthy of nothing less. Most people don’t realize that for the average congregational worship service, numerous hours are spent in preparation each week. And that’s how it should be! We want to lead well!  And that takes time, skill, practice, commitment, planning and constantly seeking the Lord in prayer.

Everything worship leaders do behind the scenes impacts the congregational gatherings of corporate worship, which is a vital element of church body life. Let’s unpack that a bit.

glenn-carstens-peters-190592-unsplash

We’ve touched on a few of these already.  Effective worship leaders will be mature believers and will possess skills in… pastoring, creativity, vocals and/or playing an instrument, music theory, music technology, theology, teaching, communication, administration, organization, stewardship and mentoring. A good worship leader will be willing and able to train and equip others to lead too. They are detail oriented, frequently called upon to troubleshoot a myriad of issues, and ideally will have at least a basic understanding of music production and live sound engineering. They must be adept at planning and preparation, and just as adept and flexible in responding to those last-minute, unforeseen issues or changes that always seem to come up. They should approach everything they do with humility and a shepherd’s heart, and with the understanding that no matter how much they know, there is always room for continued learning and growth.

So. You want to be a worship leader? Pray about it! Spend time in the Word and in private worship of the Lord. And then pray some more! Find an experienced worship pastor and talk to her or him about it! Ask the Lord to confirm that it’s what He’s calling you to do. And ask Him to place you where He wants! Scripture tells us that His plans for us are far more than we can imagine! So even if leading worship isn’t His plan for you, then whatever else He does have for you will be amazing! Evaluate your heart and motives! Also, take an honest assessment of your skill set then prioritize and make a plan for improvement. Consider the possibility of going to school or seminary to study and equip yourself. If you’re already a worship leader then the same thing applies! Prayer, Bible study, heart-checks, skill evaluation and training should be on-going in the life of the worship leader. You have a unique purpose in His kingdom! Pursue Him and be in the habit of cultivating the gifts and skills He’s given you for the benefit of His church and for His glory.

Ultimately none of us are worthy to serve the Lord. But by His design, grace and relentless love for us, it’s what we get to do.

Let’s do it well.

samuel-martins-631378-unsplash

 

Michelle Haywood Smith is a Jesus follower, image bearer, ezer, worship leader, vocalist, acoustic guitar player, aspiring poet and songwriter, blogger, reader, perpetual learner, chocolate acquisition specialist;)….and also a daughter, sister, wife, mother & friend.