Saturday, September 17, 2011

Like an Orchestra...

I love the biblical portraits of what we as the People of God are supposed to look like. The Church, corporately, is a bride, awaiting the coming of our Bridegroom. We are a body, with Christ as the Head. We are like sheep, with Jesus as our Good Shepherd. We are a temple, each of us as living stones with Christ as the Chief Cornerstone. We are a household, brothers and sisters in Christ with God as our Father.

Last night as Mogi and I watched the Stuttgart Philharmonic Orchestra perform Beethoven's Violin Concert in a big old cathedral in Schw√§bisch Hall, another analogy came to mind...the Church is like an Orchestra. 

Of course I like this analogy, because I am musical. But I think there are some pretty neat parallels that can give us a new understanding of both our identity and purpose as the Church.

To start with, an orchestra is made up of many individuals. It cannot be a one-man show, or it will not work. To be a follower of Christ means that we are connected in community––part of a body, part of a household. There are no "lone rangers" in Christianity. But like an orchestra, all the individual members must be in unity. When Jesus prayed for all those who would ever believe in him, he asked his Father, "May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that You sent me and have loved them even as You have loved me" (John 17:23). It is by our unity that the world will know about Jesus––wow! 

Just as there are different instruments in an orchestra, so we as Christians all have different gifts. "There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men" (1 Corinthians 12:4-6). Some gifts may be similar, like a violin and viola, and some people in a group may also have the same gift as the other. But the key is to know when it's your turn to play. Not all of us have gifts that are used in the limelight, like the violin soloist was last night. But his music would not have sounded like it did if he were not accompanied by other, seemingly "smaller" or "less significant" instruments such as the percussionists who played only every so often. Instead of being jealous of other people's gifts or being upset that ours aren't as "noticed," we should appreciate how God has designed us all to work together to accomplish HIS purposes, not ours. "God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other" (1 Corinthians 12:24-25).

As soon as we make life and ministry about us, we lose the unity that is supposed to define us as followers of Christ. If one instrumentalist in the orchestra decided that they wanted to show off their talent, it would have ruined the whole performance. And even in those times when we don't seem to be "playing," it doesn't mean we're not part of the team. We are always participating, even if it is sitting back and encouraging someone else who is playing. We are still contributing to the greater purpose, the bigger picture, the 'song' that God is writing through His Church to a watching and listening world.

There are those gifts though that are more often seen at the forefront. Those of us who are in positions of leadership are held to an even higher standard. In a symphony, it may be less obvious if a quieter instrument makes a mistake or misses a note. But if the main soloist messes up, everybody notices. This is not to imply that it's okay for Christians to sin if nobody notices! We should all be living righteous lives, being holy because the One who called us is holy (1 Peter 1:15). But it is especially those whom God has called as leaders that other Christians should be able to look up to, considering the outcome of their way of life and imitating their faith (Hebrews 13:7). Therefore leaders must be "above reproach" (1 Timothy 3:2). As the saying goes, "With great power comes great responsibility." "Since an overseer is entrusted with God’s work, he must be blameless" (Titus 1:7). The writer of Hebrews exhorts us, "Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden" (Hebrews 13:17). We are ALL going to be held accountable for the way we handled our gifts and how faithful we were in participating on the team and contributing to the symphony. We want to hear the "Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things" from our 'Conductor' (see Matthew 25).

But how does a group of people become unified? How can it be that individuals with different tastes, different gifts, different preferences and ideas, are able to work together and play something so beautiful? How does unity happen? Two more parallels are interesting here. Perhaps the sheet music that the orchestra uses could be a picture of the provides the instructions for playing. Yet it is possible to follow the music and play all the notes written, but to still sound bland and boring, or for the instrumentalists to still disagree about what sounds best or what should be done. That is why there is also a conductor. Our conductor is the Holy Spirit. He adds "life" and dynamics to our music––not going against what the sheet music says, but leading the orchestra to follow the notes in a way that produces a sound which draws people in. Of course our job as the Church is not simply to 'perform,' but the reality is that there is a world of people observing us, critiquing us, watching us with keen interest, and the Holy Spirit inside of us ought to be 'enticing.' Jesus said, "Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him" (John 7:38). If the water flowing from within us is not refreshing to the parched land around us, we are not being relevant and our 'music' is in vain.

Just as all the members of the orchestra must keep their eyes on both the music and the conductor at the same time, so God has provided us with both his Spirit and his Word to live by. We must worship God in spirit (by His Spirit) and in truth (according to his Word) - John 4:24. We can't have one without the other. I heard a saying the other day... "With only the word, you will dry up. With only the Spirit, you will blow up. With both, you will grow up."

As I watched the conductor last night (who, by the way, was very animated and active), I noticed that he always seemed to be just a bit ahead of the orchestra. That was important, since he was the one leading. So it is with the Holy Spirit. We are to be led by Him, as well as keep in step with him (see Galatians 5). He must be in front, setting the pace, but at the same time we need to keep up, not following along passively at a distance. Do you know what the Holy Spirit is doing and wants to do in your life, your family, your church, school, workplace, etc.? Obedience to the Holy Spirit is an incredibly exciting journey, but we will only experience it if we follow!

{So, how do you see yourself as part of this 'orchestra' which is the Church? How are you doing with following the Conductor and with following the notes––even knowing them by heart? Is your instrument out of tune, or are you taking care of it and putting it to good use?}
 From Psalm 66...
 1 Shout with joy to God, all the earth!
 2 Sing the glory of his name;
   make his praise glorious!
3 Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds!
   So great is your power
   that your enemies cringe before you.
4 All the earth bows down to you;
   they sing praise to you,
   they sing praise to your name.”
 5 Come and see what God has done,
   how awesome his works in man’s behalf!
 8 Praise our God, O peoples,
   let the sound of his praise be heard;
9 he has preserved our lives
   and kept our feet from slipping.
 16 Come and listen, all you who fear God;
   let me tell you what he has done for me.
20 Praise be to God,
   who has not rejected my prayer
   or withheld his love from me!"

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