I’ll explain what I don’t mean by that in a minute; first let share my experience with worship leading.

I was a junior in high school when I asked a friend to teach me to play guitar, partially out of boredom. He graciously taught me a few Nirvana songs and a few basic chords (in that order). From there, I started trying to bang out a few worship songs in an effort to train my rookie fingers to go where they were supposed to. This means that my intense efforts at training my fingers to play the guitar coincided with my first personal experiences with playing “worship music.”

I have been a Christian as long as I can remember, but I don’t recall having been passionate about my faith prior to this point. I repeatedly sang basic songs like “Lord, I Lift Your Name on High” as I laboriously positioned my fingers for each of the four chords the song requires. I can’t tell you how many times I played that song in those months, but it was A LOT. As my muscle memory kicked in and I developed the ability to switch chords without prolonged pauses, the song itself began affecting me. I can still remember the night that I got down onto my knees as I continued to strum the guitar and sing that song directly to the Lord. It was the first meaningful worship experience I can remember.

Why? Why should forcing my fingers to move into unnatural positions bring me into a deeper expression of praise? I am only recently realizing that it has a lot to do with the embodiment that playing an instrument requires. Though we think of singing praise songs to God as a spiritual experience (and it is), it would be impossible without the body. When we sing to God we are using our brains, mouths, vocal cords, and lungs in addition to our souls. The praise may be spiritual, but it works in conjunction with the physical, embodied functions of the bodies God created. All of this deepens the impact. Just as the physical practice of taking communion deepens the impact of remembering Jesus’ sacrificial death—chewing the bread, tasting the wine—so the physical involvement of singing deepens the truths we express when we praise God. It involves the heart as well as the mind.

So adding another dimension to that embodiment by involving the arms and fingers sinks these truths into our hearts. “Lord, I Lift Your Name on High” became ingrained—not just in my mind, but also in my muscle memory. I believe that the authenticity of worship that came from this experience stems in large part from the involvement of my body. Prior to this, my worship consisted of words. Now more of my body was involved, and my desires were being shaped at a deeper level.

Presumably, all worship leaders have experienced something similar. They went through the initial process of training their bodies to engage with music at a deeper level. And week after week they participate in embodied practices that express worship to God. These processes help the truth to sink in, and the worship deepens.

I know that many worship leaders become calloused to the truths they sing about. Through over-familiarity a song can lose its potency, and a worship leader can become numb to the powerful truths embedded in the song. Nevertheless, the solution to this is not stepping away from embodied practices that can help the truth to sink it, but instead to continue to pursue creative ways of expressing truth so that it has the greatest possible impact.

When I titled this post “Why Worship Leaders Are More Spiritual,” the full thought I’m getting at is not that worship leaders are more spiritual than other people, as if singing into a microphone were a sign of spirituality. What I am actually suggesting is something more along these lines: worship leaders are more spiritual than they used to be. The idea is that worship leaders are engaging in a powerful means of expressing truth, and that truth is bound to sink in more deeply as it involves more of the person.

God created us as whole beings, and we are made to glorify him with every integrated aspect of our being. Worship is more than contemplating spiritual concepts. Worship is meant to seep into our bones, to transform our hearts, to come to expression through our fingers, our voices, our footsteps, through every gesture and pursuit. Learning the guitar deepened my faith. You may have no inclination to follow my lead in this, but all around you are embodied practices that can deepen your faith. Pick a handful and pursue them to the glory of God.

I get asked quite often how much money one should spend on building a personal library, and about what sort of books should be in that library. My answer usually directs them to some good reference tools, such as commentaries and Bible dictionaries, or other Main Carouselresources that they will return to often. But my answer has recently changed. If you want to get a resource that will be with you the rest of your life, I would recommend a Bible software program. And if you want a Bible software program, I’d highly recommend Accordance.

Let me give you a quick back-story so you can learn from my mistake. When I was doing my master’s degree, I kept eying all the Bible programs out there (Gramcord, Logos, Bible Works, and Accordance), but I never ended up buying any of them. They can be expensive, especially for a seminary student living on Ramen noodles. So I kept buying books and more books, and at the end of my degree, I could have easily afforded a Bible program for half the price of what I spent on books (granted, some of the books were necessary).

When I started my Ph.D., I had my heart set on getting a Bible program and I had my eye on Accordance, which my friends all said was the most highly acclaimed program for high-level study. But then I started hanging out with some super smart (like, creepy smart) professors, who mocked the idea of Bible programs. “If you want to know how many times a Greek word is found in the New Testament, just read the Greek New Testament.”

Yes, thank you, I thought. But how about the rest of us who don’t have an encyclopedic memory of all the words in the Greek New Testament?

In any case, I continued to flip vocab cards and write down word occurrences, and never actually bought a Bible program. And that was a mistake. I could have saved a ton of time and not a few tears if I had just bit the financial bullet and purchased Accordance.

This is why I am so thankful that as of Summer 2014, I am a proud owner of Accordance! And it has revolutionized my study.

For those of you who don’t know, Accordance (like other programs) gives you a wealth of sources, such as books, commentaries, atlases, reference tools, translations (tons of translations); but it also allows you to search for words, phrases, Greek and Hebrew constructions, and other such functions to enable you to dig deep into the text. I won’t go into detail about how to do this—Accordance has many tutorials and videos to guide you through this. But I do want you to know that it is much easier than I thought.

For instance, if you wanted to see how many times the Greek word agape occurs in the New Testament, you can do this with one click. But this is only the beginning of a whole new world. With a few more clicks, you can see which books or which authors use the Accordance 10 screenshotword, in which form (future, past, present), how many times the noun form is used (agape) along with the verb (agapao), along with the adjective, adverb, and other words with the same root. You can search the Greek translation of the Old Testament, other commentaries and dictionaries that use the word, and this is still only the beginning. With just a few simple clicks, you can have a screen full of definitions, stats, articles, and parallels that will keep you busy for hours.

But Accordance isn’t just for language study. A lot of you probably don’t know Greek and probably never will. If you’re wondering if Accordance is just for the ivory tower or those climbing it, then you may be interested in one of the lower level packages, such as the Bible Study Collection or even the Starter version. Even these will give you access not only to a bunch of English resources (including several translations and dictionaries), but will also link up all the English words with the Greek word in Strong’s Concordance, which you may be familiar with.

Another thing I like about Accordance is that the different packages (there are 6 levels in all) don’t bog you down with too many resources that you will never use. I haven’t done a thorough search through all the other Bible programs out there, but some of the ones I’ve looked at seemed to have tons of sources that I would never read and would never recommend my students reading (outdated commentaries from 100 years ago or books written by people that will only lower your grade if you cite them on a research paper—at least in my class). Now, there are still some books in Accordance that I will probably never use, but the list seems smaller than other programs.

But if you’re thinking about buying a Bible program, I’d definitely recommend doing your own research on them all before you do. While I’m extremely happy with Accordance, I would make sure it’s the right fit for you. I would recommend spending an hour touring through some of the videos on the Accordance Vimeo page, or some of the tutorials they have online, to see if it’s the type of program that will help you in your studies. And if you do end up getting Accordance, I would highly recommend putting it into your mind that you will take the time to watch even more videos to learn how to use it. Accordance is the Photoshop of Bible Software; you can do some basic stuff right away but will need to invest some time learning all of its endless capabilities.

Let me know if you have any questions!

Walls Fall Down - RutherfordThis “month’s” book recommendation originated close to home: Walls Fall Down by Dudley Rutherford. Dudley is the pastor of Shepherd of the Hills Church in Porter Ranch, just over the hill from us here at Eternity Bible College. We’ve had a great relationship with Shepherd of the Hills over the years, so I was pleased to have a chance to review Pastor Dudley’s new book.

Walls Fall Down is meant to help you address the struggles in your life in a God-honoring way. Each time a trial arises, we have to choose to respond in a godly way. Too often our responses are less than Christian—we succumb to fear, we hold a small view of God, we try to “go it alone,” or we fail to follow God’s instructions in the midst of our struggles. Walls Fall Down offers powerful direction for those who want to overcome the struggles in their lives in a way that glorifies God.

The approach of Walls Fall Down is unique. Rather than simply listing out helpful tips for addressing trials, Dudley uses the Battle of Jericho recorded in Joshua 6 as an analogy of what it looks like to rely on God in a trying situation.

Now, it’s important to recognize that the book of Joshua is a narrative. In other words, it’s telling us a story—a gripping story that still has much relevance for us today. But the historical accounts in the book of Joshua are not primarily intended to give us advice on facing life’s problems. They tell us stories about God’s greatness and about the people who trusted in God (or who failed to do so). Nevertheless, there are principles to be gleaned throughout these ancient stories, and Walls Fall Down does an excellent job of carefully observing this great battle and drawing out principles that we need to consider as we navigate our modern world.

For example, Dudley paints a vivid picture of the highly fortified walls of Jericho and explains that Israel had to see their God as more powerful than the military fortifications of their opponents. Then he draws a parallel: we too, must view God as bigger than our problems. So true and so helpful! Similarly, Dudley observes that God’s plan seemed ridiculous (march around the city for seven days, blow trumpets, and the walls will fall down on their own!), but the Israelites had to follow God’s seemingly nonsensical instructions precisely if they wanted victory. So we today must trust God’s instructions—even when they seem crazy—if we want to glorify God in this life.

Dudley Rutherford, pastor of Shepherd of the Hills Church

Dudley Rutherford, pastor of Shepherd of the Hills Church

Dudley also begins each chapter with a fictionalized account that helps readers feel what it must have been like to be an Israelite during this unique moment in history. I found these sections, and the analogies drawn with the battle of Jericho, to be helpful as I considered what it requires to follow God’s leading today.

Now, there were one or two points where this format felt a bit limiting. For example, Dudley offers the reader true and priceless advice: as we follow Jesus in this life, we need to rely on the guidance of seasoned “veterans,” Christians who have gone before us, who have followed God in similar situations and found him to be faithful. Wonderful advice; point well taken. However, I don’t see anything in the biblical account of Joshua 6 that indicates that this dynamic was in play. It may have been happening, but the story of Jericho seems to show that God gave Israel the victory not because of their strategy, but because God was working miraculously through unusual means. So while it is true that we must look to the wisdom of seasoned saints (other biblical passages teach this), I don’t see it in Joshua 6. What this means to me is that Dudley’s teaching is sound and insightful, but that the analogy breaks down at some point (as they all do).

I’m glad Dudley wasn’t a slave to the format of the book and still chose to include powerful insights like this. Because the book is more than an exposition of Joshua 6, such additions work well. The format of comparing our modern life with this ancient battle makes the overall message of the book more powerful, and in the few places where Dudley took the liberty of reaching beyond the confines of the analogy, the message of the book is strengthened even further.

So if you’re looking for a compelling retelling of the Battle of Jericho, and if you want to focus your mind on what it takes to pursue God in the midst of trying circumstances, Walls Fall Down would be a great place to start. Dudley Rutherford and Shepherd of the Hills Church have had a powerful ministry for many years, and this book flows out of and will continue the work God has been doing there.

I annoy my family every time we eat fresh strawberries or a ripe watermelon. “Are you kidding me?!! Did you taste these? How is this even possible?!!” Yes, they’ve tasted the strawberries; yes, they’re delicious; let’s talk about something more interesting. But let me annoy you with this for just a minute.

Think of everything that has to go into enjoying a strawberry. God had to first create a world in which strawberries could grow. Then he designed strawberries, but he did so with such an over-extravagant flare it’s ridiculous. They’re not black and white; they’re bright red. They have a unique shape and texture. They are capable of nourishing our bodies (which God also designed to receive nourishment from the fruit of the ground—unbelievable!). This would all be amazing even if they weren’t delicious.

Strawberries

But then God chose to give strawberries flavor. Think about what flavor entails. We’re talking about a whole language of subtleties and nuances. Wine and coffee snobs have their own jargon to try to capture some of these subtleties in flavor: sweet, acidic, smooth, robust, earthy, fruity, lingering, sharp, crisp, oaky, floral, etc. There is a world of information in every bite, so we grasp at a language that was not designed to describe such things and try to communicate what we’re tasting. Flavor is a full language, an incomprehensibly large set of data packed into the physical stuff we eat and drink.

God created this language of flavor. He encoded every edible thing with the appropriate data to make it taste as it should. Even if you’ve never eaten a fresh Oxnard strawberry, those strawberries are encoded with data by a loving Creator.

And then there’s your mouth. God had to give your mouth both the hardware (taste buds, teeth, saliva, etc.) and the software (flavor interpreters) so that you could decode the flavors that he has encoded in a strawberry. Your sense of smell is tied in as well. Every bite. Every strawberry. Every glass of wine. Every steak. Bursting with a flavor-language invented by God, decoded by the ingenious equipment God placed in your mouth.

It’s the same with your ears. We’re talking physical objects capable of producing sound waves that can carry unique timbres, flying through the air, smashing into your eardrums, travelling to your brain for interpretation. God encodes the world with a sound-language, and equips your body with decoding equipment.

It’s the same with your eyes. Multiple sources of light that cast unique visual opportunities at every moment. Objects that reflect and refract that light in a host of colors, shades, and textures, sending that light bouncing toward eyes and camera lenses. God encoded the world using an incredibly complex light-language. And he gave you light-decoding equipment that is mind-boggling in its complexity and brilliance.

Watermelon

It’s the same with your fingertips. A world encoded with textures, degrees of firmness, shapes, and all the incredible subtleties that make up the “feel” of the world. A touch-language that is infinitely explorable. And he covered you in skin capable of decoding this data with unbelievable sensitivity.

It’s the same with your nose. Particles everywhere encoded using God’s incredible scent-language. Winds that carry these scents. Noses that can pick them up and interpret them.

And here is the staggering part: ALL OF THIS IS ENTIRELY UNNECESSARY. From a certain standpoint, that is.

God could have made us purely spiritual beings, yet he chose to enflesh us. He made a physical world and loaded it with the potential for infinite sensory combinations. He gave us the equipment to utilize these five senses. He sends us out into the world to enjoy these sense experiences in all of their diversity, in all of their glory. God’s world is enjoyable—he made it that way, and he gave us the capacity to enjoy it. Truly, in enjoying this world, we are enjoying the God who made it, the God who “richly provides us with everything to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17).

I truly believe that God delights in my delight of strawberries. I can turn that taste into an idol, of course. I can use it for purposes that dishonor God. But when I bite into this unbelievable piece of God’s creation, my mind turns instantly to the Creator, and I thank him for being so lavish in encoding this world, and so gracious in providing me with the ability to decode it. I enjoy God by enjoying his creation. With every bite, I remember God’s goodness.

It’s as if the strawberries declare the glory of God; the watermelons proclaim his handiwork. It’s apologetic fruit, and it’s full of wonder.

I’ve written a bit about Francis and Lisa Chan’s new book, You & Me Forever: Marriage in Light of Eternity. The book is now available, and you definitely need to read it, whether you’re married, engaged, think you might someday be married, or know someone who is or will be. This book is perspective changing, and I’m excited for people everywhere to begin digging into it.

I just came across this 13 minute video that really conveys the heart of the book. The stories in this video are so powerful. They will inspire you to see your marriage as bigger than your own happiness. God has a purpose for you and your marriage. A mission to pursue. He wants to change lives through your marriage, and not just your own. I’m so thankful for people like this who challenge us to see our lives and marriages as God sees them.

Settle in with a box of tissues and watch this video, then order the book below.

You and Me Forever from You and Me Forever on Vimeo.

 

Order the book now at Amazon or at youandmeforever.org.

You & Me Forever Cover - Francis & Lisa Chan

 

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