Wednesday, April 27, 2011


“[N]othing could be more relevant than the God who made us and came to live among us in Jesus Christ.  The real danger is not that we pursue relevance too much but too little: it’s too much about our culture and too little about God.”- Mark Labberton, The Dangerous Act of Worship: Living God’s Call to Justice

By the way, if you are interested in worshiping in a real, meaningful, dangerous, life-changing way; if you are interested in worshiping in spirit and truth every minute of every day, I highly recommend this book. 

There’s nothing inherently wrong with conveying the gospel in terms that people can understand.  In fact, that’s one of the remarkable things about the gospel; it transcends cultural restrictions and speaks to hearts in any tongue.  It is more unifying and inclusive in scope than most Christians would admit (or care to admit, whichever the case).

But here’s the problem: if we worry about giving everyone what they can relate to, what appeals to their cultural appetites, we’ve not given people anything more than they already are and already know.  The redemptive work of Christ is more relevant than the whims of culture.  So, the more we are enslaved to a push to be relevant, the most irrelevant we actually become.

Worship must be intelligible, it must be understandable, and it must be flexible.  But it has to call people out of where they are into the glorious life and light of Christ. 

That means everything we use, traditional or contemporary, liturgical or free, somber or exuberant, vanilla or chocolate, must be measured by the same theological stick.  Style and trends change, but we are called to worship a God that has forever remained the same and has forever been relevant.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

homage (part 3)

“Living in the age of sensation, we think that if we don’t feel something, there can be no authenticity in doing it. But the wisdom of God says something different, namely, that we can act ourselves into a new way of feeling much quicker than we can feel ourselves into a new way of acting. Worship is an act which develops feelings for God, not a feeling for God which is expressed in an act of worship. When we obey the command to praise God in worship, our deep, essential need to be in relationship with God is nurtured.”- Eugene Peterson

3. Worship is more than a feeling.

The first title I wrote was "worship is not a feeling," but I want to be very careful here.  Feelings can be a part of our worship, and there's nothing wrong with that.  It's another part of our being that can respond to God's self-revelation.

But it's more than that.

(I should break quickly to assure you that I am not writing this to play into the contemporary/traditional debate.  I have no desire really to do so at this point.  And this issue is as much a problem for the traditional folks as the contemporary).

A lot of us like to speculate, myself included, about the authenticity of people's worshipful responses.  We look at someone raising their hands or closing their eyes in song and we think, "Man, that person is really worshiping."  Sometimes people say it about themselves, as well, if they had unusually strong emotions.  A guy once told me, "I got my praise on tonight, brother."  (This was obviously in a Baptist congregation.)  And I hope it was true.  But can we ever know for sure?

Short answer: no.  Long answer: not really.

We may have lots of good feelings.  We may be pleased by the music, meaning that it appeals to our sensory likes and dislikes.  But that, in and of itself, is not worship.  In fact, since worship is a response, the worshipful part is not us being pleased, but us offering a part of ourselves for God's pleasure.

And, to be quite honest, I'm not a good enough judge of people's hearts (or voices, or hands, or eyes, or anything else) to be able to tell the difference.

Because we live in a society full of people desperately searching for the next upper, the next high, the next positive emotion (anyone hear "Hooked on a Feeling" in the background), we figure if we can't feel it, there's no worship happening.

There are, at least, a few problems with that way of thinking. 

First, worship is, at the core, deeper than an emotional response.    

Second, sensory perception is different for everyone.  Some people actually feel very little.  If we're not careful, defining worship by how we feel about it can be shattering to people suffering from depression, low moods, sadness, grief, etc.  They may actually begin to feel that there is something desperately wrong in their Christian relationship, since their experience is different.

Third, worship that exists so that we can feel good and enjoy ourselves is fundamentally false.  The whole thing is about God's desires, not ours.  Christian worship that focuses on people's feelings and appetites actually ceases to be Christian, since Christ is not the center of it. 

So, let's be careful with this one.  We come before God's throne at His initiative, and whatever we do should be offered with an upward-focused heart.  Positive emotions are great, but they aren't everything.  Worship exists so that we can become more like Christ and find a deeper relationship with our Creator.

Peterson, Eugene. A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000.

Monday, April 18, 2011


Just in case you're wondering...

My top 5 hymns are:
5. The God of Abraham Praise
4. Close to Thee
3. Out of My Bondage, Sorrow, and Night
2. There Is a Fountain
1. O, the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus

Friday, April 15, 2011

homage (part 2)

Such love constrains me to answer his call,
follow his leading, and give him my all.

O Jesus, Lord and Savior, I give myself to thee,
for thou in thine atonement didst give thyself for me.
-Thomas Chisholm

2. Worship is a response.

Worship begins when our hearts are moved by knowledge of God and knowledge of what God has done.  Once we know these things, there should be such fervor in our hearts that we have no choice but to allow each corner of our lives to be changed and refined and dedicated to God's glory.

Worship doesn't start with us.  It doesn't happen at our initiative.

When I was a kid, I wasn't allowed to watch much television, which was located either in my parents' bedroom or in the living room.  So, in an effort to be informed enough to have conversations with people under the age of 45, I got my hands on a 5-inch black and white for my bedroom.  My life changed immediately.

Of the shows that were available in the realm of mid-90s broadcast TV (Married...With Children, Seinfeld, Friends, News Radio) the one that seemed to be on most late at night was Roseanne.  I wasn't a huge fan, but it was eye-opening.  And, being someone that has always liked great quotes, it provided plenty of ammunition like this:

D.J. Conner: [confronted about why he has been sneaking off to church] Mom, I wanted to tell you. I just had some questions about God and stuff.
Roseanne Conner: Well, so why didn't you come to us if you had questions? You know, there's no two better people to answer your questions than me and your Dad.
D.J. Conner: Okay. What religion are we?
Roseanne Conner: I have no idea. Dan?
Dan Conner: Well... my family's Pentecostal on Mom's side, Baptist on my Dad's. Your Mom's Mom was Lutheran and her Dad was Jewish.
D.J. Conner: So what do we believe?
Roseanne Conner: Well... we believe in, ah, being good. So basically we're good people.
Dan Conner: Yeah, but we're not practicing.

Unbeknownst to the Conners, worship isn't really something practiced as much as it's something that pours out of the redeemed life. It's not that we just decide to worship, but it's something we can't help doing because of the radical change taking place in us by the power of the Holy Spirit. 

I recently read something someone had written that said something to this effect: "Great worship really gets me going."

I'm not going to discredit that sort of statement, because I bet it comes out of an authentic encounter with Christ, but instead of "worship gets me going," I think it would be more accurate to say "the love of Christ and what he has done gets me going so that I can't help but worship."  I know, I know, it's not as pithy or succinct and it doesn't sound as cool, but I think that's the way the equation has to be. 

God revelation + my reception = a life bowed before the throne; or, a life of worship.

If you have experienced God's call on your life and have responded in faith, you have already begun worshiping.  Do that again and again each day - at church, at home, at school, at work or anywhere else - and it will become a lifestyle.  

Sunday, April 10, 2011

homage (part 1)

More about Jesus let me learn,
More of his holy will discern,
Spirit of God my teacher be,
Showing the things of Christ to me.

More, more about Jesus,
More, more about Jesus,
More of his saving fullness see,
More of his love, who died for me.
-Eliza E. Hewitt, 1887 

I'm certainly not the authority on worship.  That's for sure.  But I do have a sneaking suspicion that there are some misconceptions out there among Christians.  More than that, worship is something that is really hard to have an open and honest discussion about, probably because we all bring different conclusions to the table, and these conclusions are often very deeply held, sensitive issues.

For instance, we love to make worship all about Sunday morning.  And that really causes tension, since most of us can't agree on what Sunday morning should look like.  So, if we stop there, or even worse, stop with music, we're going to keep going around in a circle of tense emotions and defensiveness.

So, even though the issue of corporate worship (what the Church does when it gathers together) is important, and even though I have my own preferences and convictions, I don't want my discussion here to become more fodder for divisiveness and division.

So, anyway, here I go with some things that seem very important about worship to me.

1. Worship begins with knowledge.

This just seems so obvious, yet so important (and ignored).

I've said it a bunch of times before that worship is, ultimately, a heart response (I'll ramble a bit more about that later).  If there is no knowledge of and about God, there is no heart response.  And we can only worship as far as we have knowledge of God.

We can go through the motions.  We can sing the songs.  We can look really serious.

But we can't worship God if we don't know anything about God.  And we can't worship God if we don't know God personally. 

Both of these elements are absolutely essential.

This might seem obvious, but I think it's a real problem.  We live in such a disconnected, introspective, narcissistic culture that most of the time, I think we (myself included) are more worried about ourselves and our feelings and our happiness and our safety that the concept of knowledge, especially intimate knowledge, of someone else is a bit awkward and foreign.

But we have to push through the disconnect and the introspection and the narcissism and really break into a real, personal, intimate knowledge of who God really is.  We have to come face to face with the reality of salvation in our own lives.  And we have to put that knowledge into practice.

But now I'm getting ahead of myself.

When we not only know about Christ, but come face to face with him and what he's done, then we can begin to worship.

Saturday, April 2, 2011


Sing praise to God who reigns above,
The God of all creation,
The God of power, the God of love,
The God of our salvation.
With healing balm my soul is filled
And every faithless murmur stilled:
To God all praise and glory.

What God's almighty power hath made,
His gracious mercy keepeth;
By morning glow or evening shade
His watchful eye ne'er sleepeth;
Within the kingdom of His might,
Lo! all is just and all is right:
To God all praise and glory.

The Lord is never far away,
But, through all grief distressing,
An ever-present help and stay,
Our peace, and joy, and blessing;
As with a mother's tender hand,
He leads His own, His chosen band:
To God all praise and glory.

Thus, all my gladsome way along,
I sing aloud Thy praises,
That men may hear the grateful song
My voice unwearied raises,
Be joyful in the Lord, my heart,
Both soul and body bear your part:
To God all praise and glory.
- Johann J. Schuetz, 1675, trans. by Frances E. Cox, 1864

God is not like us.  We are, in a very real sense, like God.  We bear His image.  But God is not bound by the human barriers we can't escape.  We have to remember that.  When God gets angry, He's not angry like we get angry.  When God loves, He doesn't love like we love.  When He grieves, it's not like us.  He is the perfect example of all these things. 

There are really two reasons we worship God.  First, we worship God because of what he's done in the world and in our lives.  Theologians call this God's "imminence," because he is imminent in that He works in and around us; he's our Creator and Redeemer.  We worship him because he created the world and gave us our life and keeps creating all the time as he keeps this old world spinning.  And we worship God because of the way he redeemed us with the most amazing story.  Those two facets make up the first reason. 

We do a pretty good job of writing songs that praise God for His presence with us (His imminence). 

Second, we worship God because of His omnipotent and omniscient character, which would be the same even if we weren't here.  This is often called the "transcendence" of God.  Because God is completely holy, just and righteous no matter what He does in our world, He is worthy. 

We don't always do a very good job on this one.  My guess is that it's because these characteristics are impossible for us to get our mind around.  We know that God is all-powerful.  But do we really have a good idea exactly what that looks like?  Not really.  But we still have to worship a transcendent God even if we don't understand it.

This hymn does a good job of both.  God is both imminent ("The Lord is never far away")  and transcendent ("Sing praise to God who reigns above").  For this reason, this is a very good hymn text. 

Check it out here - not the greatest video, but the organ is freakin' sweet.

Another sweet organ version.

Friday, April 1, 2011


"There is no instance of any hymn from the broad scheme of traditional hymnody that came from a "drinking," "tavern," or "barroom" melody.  It just hasn't happened.  Ever." - Jonathan A. Aigner

The fact is that most of the hymns we know today, or that we have record of from earlier times, are paired with melodies of known origin.  Many were either paired with existing melodies out of the ranks of art music and new compositions.  Some were paired with existing hymn tunes, themselves of know origin, of course (for instance, you can sing "Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing" to the tune of "Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus," "Love Divine, All Loved Excelling," "Brethren, We Have Met to Worship" and a bunch of others). 

So is it wrong to use well-known secular (not profane) tunes in worship?  I'm certainly not going to say that.   (And please don't take this as being any sort of indictment of modern music in worship, because we have to hold everything to the same theological standard, whether new or old.)  But I do think it would do us well to be cautious.  Cautious that we're not coming before the throne with anything that can be otherwise identified with something profane or obscene or diametrically opposed to Christ's Kingdom.

Not that drinking is any of those things.  And not that bars are necessarily any of those things.