What a New Jesus Culture Album Teaches Us About Worship

Zac HicksAlbum Reviews, Church & Ecclesiology, Worship Theology & Thought4 Comments

Justin Jarvis, Atmospheres

I’ve been listening to the newest album under the Jesus Culture umbrella, called Atmospheres. It’s by my friend and fellow local Ft. Lauderdale worship leader, Justin Jarvis. We’ve shared coffee and way too large piles of pastrami at a local hole-in-the-wall. Atmospheres is an incredible live album with an amazing sound and overwhelming moments where great truth profoundly collides with raw experience. There are several songs that paint new, imaginative pictures of old, timeless truths, like “Taste” (with the killer line, “Your grace is a dream I cannot shake / taste and see, it’s sweeter than anything”). “Born of God” is another great song, packed with the gospel narrative, linking Advent to Good Friday: 

1. Covered in flesh and blood, You came to us
Nothing of consequence to see
Inside of time and space, You laid Your life
Down on a cross to rescue me

Jesus, born of God
In the flesh, I will not forget
You lived and You died
What a love, what a sacrifice

2. Silent, You offered up Your body there
Numbered with murderers and theives
Bearing the weight of what I never could
You stood in my place and set me free

And O, the sacrifice
And O, the peace
You stood in my place and set me free

You bore the weight of what I never could
Immanuel, Immanuel, Immanuel, God with us 

Breathing Heaven’s Air in Worship

But I wanted to draw attention to a specific song that carries with it a message about what worship is. It’s a message I’ve talked about before–one that I believe the charismatic tradition has graciously illumined to the rest of the worshiping Church and maybe especially us cerebral Reformed types. “Shifting Atmospheres” is the song, and here are its lyrics:

1. We’re standing on the edge of something true
This moment is a holy one
And every dream a seed for miracles
This moment is a door for us

Taste and see all the promises of God
Live in you, and they live in me

Loud and clear, we are shifting atmospheres
With the heart of the One we love
No more fear, we will sing for all to hear
Of His love, His great love

Shifting atmospheres, shifting atmospheres

2. We’re prophesying now for bones to live
This moment breathes into the dust
A step of faith, a treasure for the brave
This moment is a door for us

Just believe all the hope of glory dwells
Here in you, and it’s here in me

Anything is possible with God
Nothing is beyond the reach of love
Anything is possible with God
Nothing is beyond the reach of His great love

Worship happens on foreign soil. I’ve heard worship described as “the embassy of heaven”–a place where national soil ceases to exist, and a piece of land is considered the sovereign sphere of another Celestial Country. In this respect, in worship, nationalism ceases to exist as the slain Lamb gathers people from every tribe, tongue, and nation (which, as a sidenote, should call into question our co-mingling of God and country in corporate, gathered worship…worship is, in essence, trans-national). 

What is remarable about Justin’s song and about the charismatic tradition is that they really believe that God is TRULY present, breaking heaven into earth in the moment of gathered worship. And so do I. Imaginative theologians I respect use fancier phrases (Jeremy Begbie calls worship an “echo from the future,” and Jean-Jacques von Allmen calls it an “eschatological event” where the Church “tries on her bridal garment“), but the essence is the same. Worship, because it is in Christ, is just like the Incarnation: heaven breaks into earth, and we “behold His glory, full of grace and truth” (John 1). This isn’t wishful thinking or spiritualization; this is what actually happens. In worship, we “shift atmospheres,” and we suddenly find ourselves not so much breathing oxygen as the air of heaven, the Holy Spirit, the Wind of God. O, for eyes of faith to see this as we stumble in, week after week, latte in hand and sin on our shoulders!

Ground Zero of Atmospheric Change

When the people of God gather together, worship itself, in whole, shifts atmospheres, if only simply because Jesus has promised to be there (Matt 18:20). And yet I really believe that God has ordained a ground zero of atmospheric change. We experience the atmospheric change, for sure, as we sing and pray together–thank you to my charismatic brothers and sisters that have reminded me of this, time and again. But we find the true gateway in what other traditions call “Word and sacrament”–preaching, the Lord’s Supper, and baptism. We see these coming together in powerfully Spirit-filled moments in places like Luke 24, when Jesus both preaches to the Emmaus-sojourners of Himself in the Old Testament (Word) and then breaks bread with them (sacrament). Notice that it was only at the point of bread-breaking (not singing, not prayer), where their eyes were fully opened to see and experience the glory of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit, where heaven broke in. 

What I love about Justin’s song is that it doesn’t let us off the hook that worship, borne from Word and sacrament, is not merely ritual but palpable experience of the presence of God and the atmosphere of heaven. In this regard, as others have said well, worship prepares us for “the rest of our life” by giving us one-hour “trial periods” and “dry runs” at experiencing the heavenly life. 

Every worship leader should long for this vision for their gathered worship experience. We should crave its felt-ness each week, and we should pray for its felt-ness over the people we lead and pastor. O God, help our unbelief!

4 Comments on “What a New Jesus Culture Album Teaches Us About Worship”

  1. Another great article Zac. I absolutely love your appreciation and respect for other worship cultures-An example in itself. What Excellent look and insight at the theology behind "Atmospheres" I appreciate you connecting some of the dots for me.

  2. I don't wish this to sound harsh, but I just worry introducing congregants to Bethel/JC music. Especially with the "pass" music gives to ministries, meaning as long as the lyrics are poetic, music catchy, then the theology of the church/ministry isn't important…
    I know that not all JC songs are theological garbage, some are excellent, but just worry to introduce those young in the faith that can't discern.

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