For the first time in the 10+ years I’ve been leading worship at Christ Community Church, we are departing from the lectionary and are planning the next four services around a theme. I’m not sure we’re actually allowed to do this sort of thing but I must admit, it has been a fresh change in planning. It also presents a few challenges.
A number of weeks ago, Dennis mentioned that he was thinking of preaching this series after considering how chiseled down many people in the congregation seemed to be. There have been a number of individuals facing health issues, family problems, marital conflicts, and deaths. Dennis’ own journey with prostate cancer has chiseled him down quite a bit. The theme won’t be suffering per se but will focus primarily on our sanctification. God uses the circumstances of life to chisel away that which does not belong. There are no particular scripture verses planned for the series. Relying on a theme for planning, in some ways, makes things a lot easier. You aren’t constrained to a single passage. On the flip side, when you’ve relied on narrow passages, such freedom is a bit intimidating.
I’ve approached the next four weeks with the general theme in mind but with a movement from a series of moods through the liturgy of a given Sunday. I’ve decided to begin the service with a hymn celebrating God’s providence. After this, I’ve chosen four Psalms of lament to set a severe tone for the coming minutes. I’ve sought songs or hymns that grapple with the severity of suffering: songs such as Be Still My Soul and Come All Ye Pining. I’ve also tried to couple such a hymn or song with a lighter, more contemporary chorus to lead us into the sermon. As a departure from our normal approach, I’ve already planned the Eucharist songs for the coming weeks. They will be introducing a new song that will be sung congregationally the following week. We end the services with an encouraging reminder of God’s providence.
With that in mind, this week, we begin with the hymn, “How Firm a Foundation.” The line, “The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design/Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine” reflects the general theme of the series nicely. “Be Still My Soul,” remains one of the greatest suffering hymns of all time. “Be still, my soul: your Jesus can repay/From his own fullness all he takes away.” God is sovereign, even when pain and disappointments seem to prevail. We then dig up an old Vineyard chorus, “Refiner’s Fire.” I don’t think I have ever led this song but it was popular in the days when I wasn’t attending church. I had to learn it, though it is fairly simple. It continues to iterate the idea that the fires of life are used to refine and sanctify us. I have asked Mags, Joy, and Connor to perform, “Come All Ye Pining,” for Eucharist. The title alone expresses an invitation for us to come to the table and be filled with Christ himself. Whatever our struggles. Whatever our temptations, weaknesses, deficiencies, and maladies, we are invited to taste of his fullness. We conclude the service with the great Maranatha! cry of Leah Cashion’s “Come, Lord, Jesus Come.” One of the last times we sang this song, David Burke was inspired to add a verse, which we will be singing this week.
So that is the week in a nutshell. I look forward to thinking through the rest of the series and seeing what God does with us throughout the coming weeks.