09-06-09 set list

Zac HicksUncategorized1 Comment

SONGS OF GATHERING, PRAISE, CONFESSION, & GRACE All People That on Earth Do Dwell (William Kethe, Zac Hicks) Great modern setting of this Genevan hymn—a versified version of Psalm 100.  We are singing this as our “song of the month” throughout September in preparation for our celebration of John Calvin’s 500th birthday on Reformation Sunday in October. Amazing God (Brenton Brown) Great modern song about joining with the praise of the saints and angels.  All Ye Gentile Lands Awake (Johann … Read More

8-30-09 set list

Zac HicksUncategorized1 Comment

Today was a glorious day of worship, where we combined the best elements of our traditional/classical and modern services.  Musically, we did everything from an ancient plainsong chant, to a re-tuned hymn, to a modern worship song. ———- Call to Worship Psalm 47 (Plainsong chant) A Chant with refrain sung from the back of our sanctuary by two cantors (myself and my partner in crime, Douglas). The Entrance of the Word A ritual from the Scottish Presbyterian tradition, opening worship … Read More

Review of Matt Redman’s new album, We Shall Not Be Shaken

Zac HicksAlbum Reviews3 Comments

We Shall Not Be Shaken
Matt Redman, We Shall Not Be Shaken (August, 2009)
My recommendation is that worship leaders and worshipers alike should buy this album.  My three favorite songs, which I hope to use at my church, are “You Alone Can Rescue,” “How Great is Your Faithfulness,” and “Remembrance.”

Overall Comments

I must say I’ve been following Redman for a long time—since the late 90s.  His early albums were great. In the 2000s, Where Angels Fear to Tread was a powerful album for me, mostly because, well before it became famous, “Blessed Be Your Name” became a heart-song of mine as God took my wife and me through the valley of the shadow of death.  After Angels came Beautiful News, and I must admit that I was disappointed in it.  My expectations were probably too high, but too many songs seemed either unsingable, too bland, or attempting too much chordally/musically.  We Shall Not Be Shaken is, in my mind, a few large leaps back up “great worship album” hill.
As I’ve said about every album Redman has put out, We Shall Not Be Shaken shows Redman to be a worship leader who actually reads His Bible.  His songs, while existential, are filled with Bible quotes, Scriptural allusion, and theological depth.  In this respect, he seems to be getting better with every subsequent album.
The production on this album is great…better than previous collections.  There is a nice sonic variety within the pop/rock genre.  Electric guitars aren’t monochromatic.  Some songs are piano-driven rather than guitar-driven.  There are U2 and Coldplay overtones here and there, and I’m hearing a more noticeable use of sampling/programming/looping than what has been on previous albums.  There are more mid- and up-tempo songs (which, personally, I find harder to write [with any substance] than slower songs).  Redman’s voice has never been a flashy one.  In many ways, I view him as the Rich Mullins of modern worship, in the sense that his recordings are admired not because he’s a virtuoso vocalist but because he writes incredible texts.  And there’s something refreshing about a “straight up” vocalist every once in a while.  You can tell Redman is a worship leader rather than a performer.  (I like Brenton Brown’s recordings for a lot of those same reasons.)
Gospel-Centered, and God-Centered
I praise Redman and this album chiefly for its gospel-centeredness.  Too many worship songs ignore the gospel, probably because the whole concept of gospel-as-entrance-ticket (but not as our ongoing source of sustenance and sanctification) is still pretty prevalent in evangelicalism.  So, that Redman continually points to the life and work of Christ, and that he roots our worship in God’s finished work in Jesus, are necessary correctives/emphases for mainstream evangelical worship.  The album is a gospel-centered album.
I also applaud Redman and this album for its God-centeredness.  There’s a lot of “You” and much less of “me.”  And any time there is “me,” it’s always set in the context of “You.”  Song after song exalts God’s greatness, faithfulness, and enduring love.  As John Witvliet has pointed out about the Psalms, Redman grounds praise in God’s attributes and His deeds.  Worship is not a mere mystical encounter with the force of the Divine, it is a recounting of the works of God in history, ushering forth an overflow of praise.  Bravo, Mr. Redman!  The title track, “We Shall Not Be Shaken,” repeats a mantra similar those used by Hillsong United lyricists:
We shall, we shall not be shaken.
But, unlike the self-triumphalism one sometimes finds in the texts of modern worship songs, Redman points back to the reason that we are not shaken:
For You are, You are never changing.

Our triumph is grounded in Christ’s.  I appreciate that Redman makes that explicit, because when it’s not, it has a subtle way of educating our congregations to be boastful in ourselves or to think that we’ve got the spiritual fortitude to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps.  The theme of God’s triumph and what that means for us reverberates throughout many tracks on the album—our glory is only great as it is derivative of God’s.
Even in Redman’s communion song, “Remembrance,” where it speaks of our remembrance leading us into worship, Redman is quick to point out:
By Your mercy we come to Your table
By Your grace, You are making us faithful

What a great line! We’re only faithful because God made us so.  More God, less me.  Amen!  “Remembrance” is a great song for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper (not enough modern worship songs are written for this sacred, vital act of Christian worship!).  Redman seems, too, to be stretching his theological boundaries, coming from the charismatic side of evangelicalism.  Probably more implicit than explicit, there are overtones of Christ’s real presence in the sacrament, in climactic lines such as:
Lord Jesus, come in glory.

One can understand this line from a Zwinglian, purely symbolic perspective by saying that Redman is just referring to how the table points to the wedding feast and that the request for Jesus to “come in glory,” is a longing for Jesus to come in the eschaton.  However, I think the context shows that Redman intended for this request to be a desired reality in the moment of Holy Communion.  In this instance, Redman sounds more Reformed than Pentecostal…though I’m definitely willing to admit to biased lenses.  So, for Redman, it seems that this song goes further than its title…communion is more than remembrance.  It is an encounter with the living Christ—albeit mysterious and veiled in the “how’s.”  An aside to this song:  I love the opening programming on “Remembrance;” it reminds me of some Radiohead song I can’t quite recall right now (I think it’s on Kid A).
The Three Best Songs on the Album
I have three favorites on the album, which I will not rank, because they are too fresh.  They’re merely in order of appearance.  The first is “You Alone Can Rescue.”  It’s a slow to mid-tempo song with a nice dynamic contrast.  The lyrics are singable and attainable.  I love it for its high view of God’s work in our salvation: all God, no me.
The second favorite is “How Great is Your Faithfulness.”  It’s an accessible song in a steady, mid-tempo 6/8 beat.  It’s got a splendidly climactic chorus (the recorded key is probably a bit high for congregations…I’d probably set it in G at church).  Though he doesn’t mention the word “covenant,” the song is filled with covenantal overtones.  It points to God’s promises, His unfailing love and justice, His steadfast, unwavering will.  I love it!
The third favorite is the aforementioned “Remembrance,” mostly because it puts a celebrative spin on Holy Communion (while still engendering reverence) and because I find myself in agreement with its apparent stance on the presence of Christ in communion (see above).
Other Comments
“For Your Glory” is a nice song to encourage dancing in congregations (still tough for me to encourage in my congregation whose history has engendered a lot of stiffness!).  It’s a 120-ish bpm up-tempo number.  Its chorus is grounded in the famous Psalm often used in Advent, Psalm 24: “Lift up your heads, O you gates, be lifted up you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.”
“My Hope” is exciting for me personally because Redman has set an old hymn (“My Hope is Built on Nothing Less”) to a new melody.  He’s replaced the standard chorus with a different one, equally beautiful, while a bit more personal.  The music in this song is epically exquisite—piano and strings.  With an interesting interplay of key-structure: verses are in G-minor and the choruses are in G-major (with a V of vi used to transition from minor to major).  Redman only uses two verses from the original hymn, but it would be easy to incorporate all the verses of Edward Mote’s original text.  The album ends on this song, which is a soft and beautiful “period” given to a beautiful set of songs.
One Note, One Minor Error
Don’t confuse “The More We See” with a song Redman sings that was hot on Christian radio a few months back, called, “King of Wonders,” which has the ending line, “the more we see the more we love You.”  This “The More We See” is a different song.  I don’t think it’s close to being the best on the album, but I wanted to point it out to any who might think that they’re getting “King of Wonders” when they’re not.
There’s an error in the iTunes digital booklet.  The lyrics to “We Shall Not Be Shaken” were duplicated under “Through it All”…no doubt an editorial cutting and pasting issue.  Fortunately (and this isn’t always the case on recordings), the vocals are sung, EQ-ed, and mixed in such a way that the text is clearly audible and understandable.

8-23-09 set list

Zac HicksUncategorized3 Comments

Well, I’m attempting something new, because I’ve seen value in knowing what goes on at other churches with other worship leaders.  I’m participating in a network of blogging worship leaders who share their sunday morning songs, through www.fredmckinnon.com.  Seems to be edifying enough.  Most at our church know that I plan two services–one traditional and one more modern.  I’ll only post the more modern one, because it’s more in line with what these folks are talking about.

Indescribable (Laura Story)
A modern worship “staple” with great reflections on God’s transcendent character, akin to Isa 40
Psalm 76 (Trinity Psalter, Zac Hicks)
One of our originals, on our upcoming album, a versified version of the psalm, with strong Divine Warrior overtones, which I connect to Jesus in the chorus and the bridge.
(Instrumental time of confession)

Why Should I Fear? (Red Mountain Church, Brian T. Murphy/Benj Pocta)
One of my favs from Red Mountain’s “This Breaks My Heart of Stone” hymn project; folky, beautiful, perfect for words/assurance of pardon after a time of confession.
OFFERTORY (We usually do a congregational song [as opposed to special music] during the offering)
There is Room (Emily E.S. Elliott, Zac Hicks)
A great song of consecration off our album, with the chorus, “Come to my heart, Lord Jesus, there is room in my heart for You.”
SONG OF RESPONSE (after sermon)
Let Us Love and Sing and Wonder (John Newton, Indelible Grace)
The message preached was on the Jerusalem council deliberations in Acts 15–a lot of the themes of which involved recognizing that the Law, fulfilled in Christ, should not be a burden to the Gentiles.  Newton’s hymn, one of the great wordsmithing jobs of all time, was a perfect response for this.  We did it very U2-esque in a “Still Haven’t Found” style.
Up to bat:
Zac – vox, acoust, elec
Katy Brumley – vox
Erick Young – vox, acoust, mandolin
Katie Young – piano
Connor DeFehr – elec bass, upright bass
Dave Farmer – drums
Michael Brumley – percussion
Sunday Setlists #57

iworship hymns…c’mon, let’s think differently about how to “redo” hymns

Zac HicksAlbum Reviews, Convergence of Old and New in Worship, History of Worship and Church Music, Hymns Movement News & Reviews, Worship Style, Worship Theology & Thought5 Comments

iworship_hymns Check out the album.
If you’ve been checking me out, you know me by now.  You know that I’m an odd lover of traditional hymns and modern worship.  So I usually pick up anything that says “hymns” on it and looks remotely modern, to see what kind of work is going on in that field.  I therefore picked up “iworship hymns” from Integrity music.  They’ve been putting out this iworship series for a while now, and they’re latest issue is an album dedicated to hymns.  It is a compilation of previously-recorded, previously-released tracks from great Integrity artists like Paul Baloche, Gateway Worship, Hillsong, New Life, etc.
The album is a good one.  It’s a great listen and has great production.  The texts of the songs are wonderful, and the worship leaders are all great, authentic people, passionate about God’s glory.  But I’m discouraged about what’s going on in modern worship with regards to “resetting” hymns, and this is a prime example.*
I’ll begin my analysis with a vignette of a typical conversation I often have with people when I tell them about what I’m trying to accomplish with The Glad Sound. I’m sure my friends at Indelible Grace, Red Mountain Church, and Sojourn Community Church have had similar dialogues.
Person:  So what’s your project about?
Zac:  We’re taking the texts of old hymns and setting them to new music…new melodies, chord structures, and instrumentation.
Person:  Oh, I LOVE that!  I love it when we sing “updated” hymns in our church.
Zac:  Tell me about that a bit more.
Person:  You know, when they take an old hymn and “jazz it up” by adding drums or guitars or something.  They just make those outdated hymns contemporary.
Zac:  Oh, cool.  (sigh…)  [the conversation continues as I try to explain how what we’re doing is different, and hopefully better]
I don’t know how many times I have had this conversation.  People don’t understand that when we’re “resetting” hymns, we are not keeping the music, at all.  We are not “updating” or “jazzing up” the melodies and chord structures.  It’s as though we’re taking a written poem and setting music to it for the first time.  The old tune and the new tune have nothing to do with each other, except that they can be affixed to the same text. I’m not completely against this type of re-hymn setting.  I think in some cases it works and sounds great (for some reason, I’ve felt that songs in 3/4 and 6/8 work better for this).  But more often than not, it sounds forced, canned, and a bit artificial.  There’s a good reason for this.  The music was composed in a different style and genre (often block chord writing) that doesn’t easily and naturally import to modern styles (melodies with fewer chord changes between).  Often, I feel that the original composers are rolling over in their graves when their music is bent out of shape.  (Again, I’m not totally against it…I plan on at least attempting to jam the plainsong chant melody of “Of the Father’s Love Begotten” into a modern groove on our next album…traditionalites, don’t shoot me, please).
These types of conversations, and these types of “updated hymns” albums like “iworship hymns,” betray a myopia quite pervasive in mainstream evangelical music: the only way to do hymns in modern worship settings is to take the original melodies and affix a new instrumentation, syncopation, and beat to them.  Friends, THERE IS ANOTHER WAY!  And this other way is something that’s been going on for centuries (see my previous post on this for more detail).  For centuries, musicians have sought to re-clothe an old hymn in the current musical vernacular.  Almost any time you look in a hymnal and see a text written in one year and the music written much later, that’s usually the case.
Why is it that we only think we have one option here?  Why is it that new modern worship “hymns” projects deliver to us the same thing again and again?  Please don’t take me as complaining about these projects.  I’m more observing and lamenting the fact that there aren’t more who are “updating” hymns in ways which feel more natural to everyone.  In conversations where I’m talking to a lover of old hymns who actually gets what I’m doing, they’re appreciative, not only that I’m giving modern worshipers a taste of old hymns, but that I’m not tampering with the musical integrity of the tunes previously used for these hymns.
I just know that there is so much more to be done in re-setting hymns, but every time I pick up a new “hymns” album, it’s just the same old concept, recycled.  There are SO many hymns to be brought back to the church, and there are SO many great songwriters out there!  Step up!  You can have so much more freedom with these hymns than you might realize!
Peace, love, dove.
*One mild exception to my discussion on the iworship hymns album is “When I Survey,” by Kathryn Scott, re-set to the tune to “O Danny Boy.”  It’s actually a beautiful setting and brings out some different nuances of the text that I’m interested in exploring.

matt redman confesses to “girly” worship songs

Zac HicksPersonal Stories & Testimonies, Worship Theology & Thought3 Comments

This is impressive.  Matt Redman, upon reflection on Scripture, speaks quite candidly about modern worship’s use of romantic love language.  He specifically mentions regret over the final line of the chorus of his famous song, “Let My Words Be Few,” which says,

Jesus, I am so in love with you.

The reason this is impressive is because we have a truly humble man who is willing to admit that he’s on a journey of greater depth of knowledge and insight.  It is also impressive because Redman is one of the top ten most recognized modern worship leaders and songwriters in the world.
I also just want to say how big a fan I am of Redman, and why.  When modern worship was in its “fluff” heyday, which I would place around the mid to late 90s, Redman was carving a different path.  You look at his early albums in and just after that era (The Friendship and the Fear, The Heart of Worship), you really do get a sense that here we have a worship leader who reads his Bible.  Yes, early Redman was full of the romantic stuff, too, but there was substance.  My appraisal is that part of the reason we’re seeing modern worship make a shift toward more biblical literacy, more God-centeredness, more theological depth, is because Redman paved the way.  I really can look at the “heavy hitters” of worship in that era, and I don’t see many that were writing as Redman did.  Now, many more are.
I haven’t spoken directly about the topic at hand, i.e. modern worship’s penchant for so-called “girliness,” but much ink and HTML have already been spilt over that, so I leave it to my readers’ comments.  I just think this video is remarkable.  And I thank God for humble public figures like Redman.

old hymns, new music…NOT a new thing

Zac HicksConvergence of Old and New in Worship, History of Worship and Church Music, Worship Theology & Thought6 Comments

Every innovative endeavor is bound to receive some backlash…
And I’ve certainly had my share of less than enthusiastic comments about my re-setting of old hymn texts to new music.  Tonight is an evening where I feel like proffering a response.
Sometimes I encounter old hymn lovers who give off the air (or say explicitly) that they don’t appreciate old hymns being tinkered with, tampered with, even desecrated.  Perhaps some are aware (but I find that many are not) that such a practice of setting old texts to new melodies for modern ears and new generations of Christian assemblies has seen many iterations over church history.  Even more ironic is that some of the beloved hymns that I and my hymns movement cohorts are accused of desecrating are already once-over desecrated texts.  Perhaps, then, for the person unfamiliar with the history of hymnody, I’ll crack open the door of just how historic re-hymning truly is by offering a brief sketch of one man, Lowell Mason (1792-1872).
Mason was a Massachusettes-born Georgia boy, banker turned church musician.  After the explosive heyday of Watts and Wesley (when they shifted in the eyes of the church from being the contemporary movers and shakers to being the more staid, “traditional” hymns…funny how that works), notwithstanding some notable hymns and hymnwriters in between, church song was growing stale.  The old hymns felt tired, and worshipers wanted more fresh hymns for a new era in evangelicalism.  The flurry of the first Great Awakening had come and gone, and the revival dust was settling.  Mason observed American congregations, saddened by the lifelessness in the singing.  He commented:

“Go where we may into the place of worship…when the singing commences…the congregation are either on the one hand gazing at the select performers to admire the music, or on the other expressing their dissatisfaction by general symptoms of restlessness.”*

Mason was dissatisfied with lifelessness and decided to do something about it.  He did so, not by shirking the traditions but by re-expressing them in modern ways.  He began affixing new tunes, melodies, and chord structures to glorious old hymn texts…a musical garb he believed modern listeners in his day would appreciate and resonate with.  Check out the impressive list that the nethymnal offers of over 80 new tunes Mason composed here.  Let me point out a few hymns that Mason re-hymned:
Joy to the World! A Watts hymn written in 1719…the original tune of which was certainly not what we sing today!  Mason took the music of G. F. Handel and arranged it for congregational singing…a tune that is now immortally tied to this text.
There is a Fountain Filled with Blood. William Cowper’s 1772 hymn saw new light when Mason re-energized it and hymns of the same meter for modern ears.  Interestingly, the tune that we often sing with it today (not Mason’s tune) is a 19th century camp song (ah, those silly youth and their wild music!).
When I Survey the Wondrous Cross. This beloved 1707 Watts hymn was not sung to the tune we know and love, until Mason came along and wrote “Hamburg” in 1824, blessing the church in perpetuity.
The list could go on.
In the light of this, it’s quite ironic when hard and fast hymn-lovers criticize folks like myself who attempt to clothe old hymns in new music.  Were it not for the members of the “hymns movement” of old, like Lowell Mason, they would not have some of their most beloved hymns!  Indelible Grace, Red Mountain Church, Sojourn Community Church, Sovereign Grace…they’re not doing anything new.  They’re recycling a repeated practice in church music history–giving back historic hymns to the modern church by re-setting them with new tunes and instrumentation.
Though some traditional hymn lovers criticize this practice, at the end of the day we join hands with the same burden.  It’s a burden to see to it that great hymns don’t lose their place in the changing church.  Some hymn lovers believe that the only way to relieve this burden is to dig one’s heels in and keep singing them the way they’ve always been sung.  Re-tuning them is a transgression too far across the line.  I humbly disagree, because, though I share their burden not only for the texts but the music, I find that the loss of music is by far and away the lesser of two evils (and sometimes the loss of music is not an evil at all, but a great good…as some of those horrid tunes need to be put in the grave! :)).  I’ve waded long enough in the stream of modern worship to know that “sing em our way or the highway” will only polarize, divide, and push away.  For now, modern worship, for better or worse, is tied to a certain set of musical priorities and parameters, and the music is not ancillary to the worship expression but part of the DNA of what draws worshipers to that style (which, as history tells, will change, too).
So all we’re doing in the hymns movement is attempting to be 21st century Masons.  We believe in the power of these old texts.  Therefore, with our musical ability, we’ll attempt to smuggle them in modern music, so that perhaps some might give them a hearing and be pleasantly surprised when a poetic profundity socks them in the gut, drawing them deeper into knowledge, insight, wisdom, and the worship of God.
And if this little post can’t convince some of my criticizers that what I’m doing is worthwhile, at least perhaps it can take some of the blinders off, curing historical myopia.
*Thomas Hastings, Biblical Repertory, July 1829, pp. 414, 415

worship: FIRST an act, THEN an experience

Zac HicksWorship Theology & Thought4 Comments

Those who resonate with modern worship often feel as though a services filled with liturgical elements besides singing are not conducive to a “spirit of worship” because it does not flow, but rather stutter-steps. However, defining a “spirit of worship” purely in terms of how it moves and engages one’s heart betrays a misunderstanding about what corporate worship is, at its core. (And don’t get me wrong, here.  I believe in flow, for both free and liturgical settings, and I seek to plan services with flow.)  But when we’re getting down to fundamentals, corporate worship is primarily an act, not an experience.* If a person leaves worship not having been touched emotionally or not having been engaged passionately, have they still worshiped? Yes! Why? Because worship is an act and only secondarily an experience. Worship is about walking through certain rituals (some churches have a broader array of rituals than others…but all have them) that the Bible guides us to engage in (like prayer, singing, preaching the Word, Lord’s Supper/baptism, etc.). Those rituals therefore embody how God wants us to worship Him, and when we enter into the act, we are worshiping as a people!

Where does experience fit in? The experience of worship follows as a blessed by-product of the act of worship. When we are truly engaged in and with the acts and rituals of our liturgy, God stirs our heart to respond, not only physically and intellectually, but emotionally as well. Seeking an experience with the living God is not bad. But making the experience one’s primary rubric for whether or not one has “worshiped” mis-prioritizes God’s design.  This has been a helpful way of encouraging my own congregation to get beyond mere feeling as the worship-rubric.  Sometimes feeling is absent (see many of the Psalms) or even antagonistic toward God (see Habakkuk and, again, the Psalms), and nonetheless we are summoned to worship God.  Whether or not we have “worshipful feelings” (what are those, anyway?  goosebumps?  heightened euphoria?  psychological tranquility?  intense pleasure?), we can still say we’ve worshiped.  The further danger, here, that many insightful worship thinkers have pointed out, is that when we are seeking a worshipful experience, are we aiming at worshiping God or worshiping worship?

Trust me, I long for the emotional/feeling component, too.  There’s a wholeness (a shalom) that God intends for worship–full engagement of body, mind, and soul, and when all those things align, it is a truly other-worldly, powerful, transformative experience.  But when it’s not there, I’ve moved past hyper-analyzing myself, the worship service, the things that were “wrong” that prevented me from gaining that experience.  I just chalk it up to my humanity, and I remind myself that God no less receives my worship when my experience falls short of bliss.

I believe this is a crucial thought for worshipers out there.

*Though I’ve felt and understood this for a long time, the act/experience comparison is a helpful, concise summary, the insight of which I received from a short worship article written by Sam Downing, pastor of City Presbyterian Church in downtown Denver, in a worship bulletin.

the modern worship request to “see God’s face”

Zac HicksWorship Theology & Thought5 Comments

“I want to see Your face.”  That line and derivatives thereof are a common request in modern worship songs.  We are often telling God we want to see Him.  Some notables:
“In the Secret,” by Andy Park: “I want to touch You, I want to see Your face.”
“Better is One Day,” by Matt Redman (albeit from Ps 27): “One thing I ask and I would seek, to see Your beauty.”
“Open the Eyes of My Heart,” by Paul Baloche: “Open the eyes of my heart, I want to see You.”
“Show Me Your Glory,” by Third Day: “Send down Your presence, I want to see Your face.”
I myself have added a refrain to Isaac Watts’ great hymn, “Come, We That Love the Lord,” which reads,
We have come to give You praise
Almighty God, lift up our gaze
Lord, we long to see Your face
Won’t You come and fill this place?

No doubt some of my theologically conscious worship-leading buddies, especially those in the hymns movement, are rolling their eyes…maybe even furrowing their brows.  Not only have I added to the already perfect hymn of the greatest hymn-writer, I’ve inserted some spurious theology, capitulating to the likes of mainstreamers like the four aforementioned songwriters.
The seriousness of the request of seeing God/God’s face/God’s beauty/God’s glory (they’re all pretty much the same request) was first pointed out to me by Michael Horton in a book that was very formative for my theology of worship, entitled, In the Face of God. In it, he wrote,

Any aspect of worship that attempts to take the seeker into the Holy of Holies without going through the Mediator and the sacrifice leads to judgment. Israel’s faith was filled with a sense of awe and respectful distance, fearful even to spell out the divine name. his reverence stands in sharp contrast to today’s ‘God is rad; he’s my dad’ informality. We must beware of scandalous familiarity with God. Perhaps we do not know him as well as we thought we did.*

This resonated in my soul at a time of life when my view of God’s power, glory, and sovereignty was rapidly expanding, concurrent with my increasing dissatisfaction with how carelessly some in the modern worship camp seemed to approach Yahweh Sabaoth.  That was the early 2000’s, and I’m happy to find modern worship nowadays being steered in a direction of higher praise, loftier theology, and a more transcendent Deity.  So why have I seemingly come full circle, to the point of inserting a “face request” in one of my own songs? (Ooh…just had a revelation of a new cheesy book title: The Bible: God’s Facebook…actually there’s a lot of analogical substance there…anyway.)
The answer is that I find “face time” with God to be a scripturally sound concept: (1) marked as a blessing of the new covenant to be fully realized at the eschaton; (2) encouraged in portions of the old covenant, where one would think such talk would be banned.
Job 33:26
He prays to God and finds favor with him, he sees God’s face and shouts for joy; he is restored by God to his righteous state.
~Seeing God’s face here is framed in a positive light.
Psalm 11:7
For the LORD is righteous, he loves justice; upright men will see his face.
~Seeing God’s face is a reward for (ultimately Christ’s) righteousness.  We can conclude that we who are in Christ do and will partake of that reward.
Psalm 17:15
And I—in righteousness I will see your face;
when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness.

~Here the Psalmist seems to be speaking of the hope of the eschaton, and through a righteousness which is ultimately not his, but Christ’s…nonetheless a moment of face-longing.
Psalm 24:6
Such is the generation of those who seek him,
who seek your face, O God of Jacob.
~Face-seeking is a positive thing, a habit esteemed and encouraged.
Psalm 27:8
My heart says of you, “Seek his face!”
Your face, LORD, I will seek.
~Much like the previous, but an even bolder claim of commitment to seek His face.
Hosea 5:15
Then I will go back to my place until they admit their guilt. And they will seek my face; in their misery they will earnestly seek me.
~Repentance and the pursuit of justice, mercy, and godliness is summarized in the concept of seeking God’s face.  Seeking God’s face is not only a good thing, it is the right thing.
1 Cor 13:12
Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
~I understand that interpretive directions could lead to a variety of ends, but given the rest of the “face talk” of scripture, I see warrant to interpret at least part of “face to face” as our face and God’s face.
2 Cor 3:18
And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
Besides biblical quotations about seeking God’s face, the modern worship request is backed by a biblical theology of the new covenant (see especially the book of Hebrews).  The veil is torn in the temple.  We have access to God’s very throne-room through the meritorious blood of Jesus Christ.  So biblical soteriology (salvation theology) supports this kind of face talk.
Christology (the study of the person of Jesus) also supports it, for in Him, we behold God incarnate, the face of the eternal One.  We read the eyewitness accounts of the gospel writers and of Paul, and by the Spirit we mysteriously behold the face of God through the Word of God.
Sacramentology (a biblical understanding of the sacraments), at least for the Presbyterian/Reformed, Catholic, Lutheran, and Eastern Orthodox, also supports face talk.  For in the Lord’s Supper there is a genuine communion between Christians and Christ (however that happens)–authentic “face time,” seen and experienced with the spiritual eyes of faith (1 Cor 10:16).
The biblical evidence, to me, is overwhelming.  Requesting and expecting the face of God not only seems to be allowable, but encouraged.  But, as Horton has reminded us, there’s a scriptural balance of, in Matt Redman’s words, “the friendship and the fear.”  Depending on your disposition, you will be inclined toward one or the other, and your inclination will often cause you to subtly discount the other end of the spectrum.  Stately, fear-minded worshipers might scoff at face-statements as too brash, too disrespectful, too irreverent, too assuming.   Casual, face-seeking worshipers might balk at overly transcendent worship language as too distant, too cold, unworshipful, and mood-killing.  The reality, as in many instances, lies somewhere in between.  And perhaps a good marker of being somewhere in the middle is a fully authentic willingness to say or sing, “Lord, I want to see your face,” while in the back of your mind remembering, “but I know that is a potentially dreadful and awesome request.”
Such balanced face-seeking in worship actually makes the face-seeking all the more rich and meaningful.  It ups the ante of the request instead of cheapening the manifest presence of the Almighty One.  It’s my hope that we all can grow in seeking God’s face together.
*Michael Horton, In the Face of God (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1996), 16-17.

traffic tickets, leading worship, and hardened hearts

Zac HicksPersonal Stories & Testimonies, Worship Theology & Thought1 Comment

I had a most interesting experience yesterday driving to church at around 7:30am.  My commute is about 20 minutes, which is just enough time to center myself and prepare my heart and thoughts for stepping into shoes I’m not worthy to fill–being a pastor and worship leader.  3/4 into the drive, a cop pulls up behind me and signals me over.  As most people do as they’re being pulled over when they don’t immediately know why, I started to replay the last 5 minutes of driving, but for the life of me I could not figure out why I was being summoned to the roadside spectacle of flashing lights (come to find out later, some of our church family were driving by watching their pastor apprehended by the law).  Well, I had expired tags, which I will go to resolve, just after I write this post.
Needless to say, I was upset.  I was pounding my fist on the steering wheel, upset at myself for having been negligent with expired tags, upset at God for sovereignly ordaining an encounter which so wonderfully UNprepared my heart for worship.  I parked the car at church, muttering at God.  I muttered at God from the car to the door.  I muttered at God from the door to my office.  I plastered on a smile and said “hey!” in a fake, enthusiastic voice to someone I saw in the hall, and then I went into my office to “prepare for worship.”  I had set in my heart that my worship preparation this week would consist of telling God how upset I was and how I wouldn’t really be engaged today, thank you very much.  I picked up the worship bulletin and was reminded that I needed to spend a few minutes rehearsing the chant that would open our service…it was a setting of Psalm 95.  The chant’s refrain was as follows:
Harden not your hearts, as your forbears did in the wilderness.
After about the third time through that refrain, it was obvious that God was talking to me.  I’m sure you understand the message I was receiving.  That transition state between being angry with God and being humbled by God is an awkward one, but that’s right where I was when I said out loud in the empty choir room, with a nervous and bitter laugh, “God, are You preaching at me?”  I didn’t need an answer.
Yesterday, I re-learned a lesson that I am perpetually teaching to my brothers and sisters week-in and week-out: God is worthy of praise, irrespective of our circumstances.  His infinite worth demands our best efforts, our most enthusiastic worship, our loftiest thoughts.  The simple lesson of “your feelings don’t matter, Zac…I have a summons on your life to gather with my people and worship me” was spoken by God once again, loud and clear.
There is a divine grace in being a pastor and a worship leader.  Others can choose to evade God on days like that, but for us, it’s our job to be there.  I count that a huge privilege.  It’s almost a spiritual discipline.  Running from God as a pastor or a worship leader really is futile, because you’re going to have to reckon with Him at least once a week when you stand before His presence in the midst of His people.  I’ve learned this lesson before.  It was good to learn it again.
Well, off to the DMV.