Tuesday, May 31, 2011


 The dearest idol I have known,
Whate’er that idol be,
Help me to tear it from Thy throne,
And worship only Thee.
-William Cowper, 1772

Each of us is, in the greatest depths of our heart, committed to idols.  And most of us probably don’t even realize it.  In fact, a lot of the time, these idols begin as good, acceptable objects or endeavors.  Family, children, career, food, sex; all of these things are good, but if not kept in their proper place, they can very easily become idols; God substitutes that ultimately leave us empty and broken. 

Remember, everyone worships.

Unfortunately, these God substitutes can even invade the Church’s corporate worship.  If we’re not careful, we can look to leaders (like the extremely attractive Traditional Worship Minister, for instance), music, liturgy, and a host of other things to take God’s place in our worship.  Or worse, by combining Christian worship with some other elements that we like, we can essentially create a false gospel.

Now, here’s my point with all of this.  There is a reason I avoid including any patriotic hymns or anthems in worship services.  It's not that there's anything inherently wrong with patriotism if it's tempered with proper perspective.  When our focus is shifted off Christ, our worship ceases to be Christian worship.  It becomes something else entirely.  For that reason, I believe very strongly that when we sing songs in our corporate worship services that are blatantly written in praise of an earthly kingdom, we have compromised the very purpose of our gathering.

Additionally, marrying patriotism and Christian worship can perpetuate a sort of modern day manifest destiny.  There are many Christians (I grew up around many of this sort) who believe that God is on our side in everything we do.  This line of thinking has led to much agony and suffering and poor witness throughout our history.  It’s time that we, as children of a God who is King over all the nations, align ourselves with Christians the world over instead of just those in our country.

God bless America.  And Canada. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


 Compulsory Disclaimer - This post is entirely meant in fun.  Some of the things mentioned are, in and of themselves, good things.  Some are categorically negative.  Others, well, it depends on who you talk to.

They do have something in common, though.  They are or represent a status, attitude, condition, or symbol by which Christians are often identified.  That is the unfortunate part.  So if one of these hits a little too close to home, know that I completely respect your decision to follow your conscience.  My issue is when these things take the place of the thing that should be the dead giveaway.  

"By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” - John 13:35 (TNIV)
They'll Know We Are Christians by.... 

  1. Our modest swimwear.
  2. Our extreme dispensationalism.
  3. Out courtship.
  4. Our witnessing t-shirts.
  5. Out natural family planning.
  6. Our Bachelor of Arts in Humanities with a Concentration in Homemaking degree that is only open to women.
  7. Our Cabbage Patch bonfires.
  8. Our love of biblical names.
  9. Our demeaning, harsh, alienating, and just plain weird church sign messages.
  10. Our broken "families."
  11. Our patriarchy.   
Lord, grant that we would be known by our love.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


"Ye are the salt."  Jesus does not say: "You must be the salt."  It is not for the disciples to decide whether they will be the salt of the earth, for they are so whether they like it or not, they have been made salt by the call they have received. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Call of Discipleship

We are fallen.  We are broken.  We are imperfect.  We are flawed.  But we are the salt of the earth.  Always.  Not just when we're feeling like it.  We are because we have tasted and know God's costly grace that is lavished upon us. 

We have no other choice.  We are the salt.  It's our identity.  It's in the new DNA that Christ gives us when he enters our lives.

Think about that when you feel like you're forced with making the decision of whether to be salt of earth.  It's already been decided.

Where he leads me I will follow,
I'll go with him, with him all the way. 

Friday, May 13, 2011


King of Glory, Divine Majesty,
Every perfection adorns thy nature and sustains thy throne;
The heavens and earth are thine,
The world is thine and its fullness.
Thy power created the universe from nothing;
Thy wisdom has managed all its multiple concerns,
          presiding over nations, families, individuals.
Thy goodness is boundless;
          all creatures wait on thee
                    are supplied by thee,
                    are satisfied in thee.
How precious are the thoughts of thy mercy and grace!
How excellent thy lovingkindness that draws men to thee!

Teach us to place our happiness in thee, the blessed God,
          never seeking life among the dead things of earth,
          or asking for that which satisfies the deluded;
But may we prize the light of thy smile,
                    implore the joy of thy salvation,
                    find our heaven in thee.
Thou hast attended to our happiness more than we can do;
Though we are fallen creatures thou hast not neglected us.
In love and pity thou hast provided us a saviour;
Apply his redemption to our hearts,
          by justifying our persons,
          and sanctifying our natures.
We confess our transgressions, have mercy on us.
We are weary, give us rest,
          ignorant, make us wise unto salvation,
          helpless, let thy strength be made perfect in our weakness,
          poor and needy, bless us with Christ's unsearchable riches,
          perplexed and tempted, let us travel on unchecked,
                              knowing that thou hast said,
                              'I will never leave thee nor forsake thee'.
Blessed be thy name.

Valley of Vision, 216

This is a wonderful example of worship.  It's deeply reflective of an inward reality, but also bathed in knowledge of God.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


Surely Christianity is transcendent, not immanent.  It teaches us, if anything, that there is Something, indeed Someone, beyond us, and beyond our entire universe.  It functions to draw us out of self-love to love for neighbor and for God.  It is most certainly not "all about you." - T. David Gordon

Gordon, T.D. Why Johnny Can't Sing Hymns, 2010

One of my church music mentors calls himself the "Poster Boy" for traditional worship in his little corner of the world.  In a few years, I may very well be that same guy where I am. 

Unfortunately, there are many people (of both traditional and contemporary persuasions) who confuse traditional worship with traditionalistic worship.  Those of us who care deeply about traditional worship and want to see it go on are very disturbed by that association.  If it's true, that means we've allowed an idol to creep up on us.

There is something deep within many of us that loves traditions for their own sake.  I love the organ intros, colors, forms, liturgy.  But traditional worship is about the meanings behind those forms.  When we say "Thanks be to God!" after the Word is read, are we just saying it because it's what we've always said and we like saying it?  Or are we saying it because it is comes from the overflow of a heart flooded with thankfulness to God for the Word and work of Christ?  See what I mean?

But if we get too attached to the traditions themselves instead of the meaning behind it, we run a real danger of become traditionalistic.  That's a point at which traditional worshipers can easily slip into an "it's all about me" mindset.  We get wrapped up in ourselves, which, actually, is one of the biggest hindrances to true, engaged worship.

There is one hymn (really a gospel song) I completely loathe.  It also happens to be one of the most popular ones we know.  It is nearly vapid of theological content, dwells solely on our sentimental feelings for a "nice" God, and ends up not affirming anything significant about Christianity.  But people love it, so people (not me) still sing it.  (I'm not saying which one it is, lest I'm raked over the coals.)

When we won't let go of the relics, we have a problem.

But traditional worship, done well, points to the meaning, or rather the person, behind the tradition.  It's not about the tradition itself, the relics, which can veil a cold heart and soul, like a facade that hides spiritual bankruptcy.  Yes, tradition, or rather traditionalism, can become a spiritual roadblock, as can anything else that is done for the sake of doing it.

If the meanings behind these traditions isn't what we're celebrating, we've descended deep into a sentimental mire.  When we incorporate things into traditional worship just because they take us back or because they're fun or make us think of our momma, we're not doing it right.

It grieves me deeply when I hear someone refer to traditional services as being for "old people."  It's not.  Tradition can incorporate and adopt the best of the modern to its realm.  It's not just all the old stuff.  There are old elements, but they're not relics.  When worship is at it's best, at least.  That's when there is heart behind the responses, the readings, the hymns. 

And worship happens when a heart and mind, both dedicated to God's glory, meet.

Sunday, May 1, 2011


Ministries that focus on manufacturing spiritual experiences, despite their laudable intentions, may actually be retarding spiritual growth by making people experience-dependent. Like caged animals, consumer Christians lose the ability to do what they were designed by God to do-have a vibrant self-generating relationship with Christ. Instead, they become dependent upon their zookeepers for life and nourishment. This captive/captor relationship is unlikely to change as long as both the church member and leader are satisfied with the arrangement. But is this what the Christian life is supposed to be? - Skye Jethani, excerpted from The Divine Commodity (Zondervan 2009).

I spent a while, longer than I care to remember, working at Outback Steakhouse.  We had this slogan, "no rules, just right" that we were required to share with people when they mentioned all their special requests.  Of course, that line is just a play on the old "customer is always right" model, in which customer service employees are required to relinquish all their personal rights in order to make demanding people like their establishment and want to come back.

Now, is the customer always right?  Of course not.  And "no rules, just right" is just as ludicrous.  There are rules and, at some point, you're going to have to say "no" to one of those demands.  Like when a guest wants double the chicken at no additional cost or eight slices of swiss on their burger or, my favorite, a birthday margarita instead of a birthday sundae.  

It's not really about them.  That's just good business.

And worship isn't really about us.  Heard that from me before?

I say it a lot because we need to be reminded.  I need to be reminded.  

How often to we go to church expecting our desires to be met.  We want the expected, the tasty, the extravagant.  We want our itches to be scratched.  

Since we live in a culture of consumerism, we think we deserve these things.  After all, we're supporting this church with our money and our time and our effort.  We're paying customers.  And when we don't get what we want, we complain about it as if our medium-rare steaks came out well-done.  

We probably even baptize our selfishness in righteous indignation, claiming that we have been left hungry and thirsty and that our needs aren't being met.  It's not our fault.  We're not getting what we paid for.

Actually, we're so parched because while the manna was being served, we were busy looking for our frito pie.  

We can't be filled until we are empty.  That sounds like foolishness in the world's economy, but that how it works.  When we come to worship without a Christmas list, without sourness, without selfishness, God's greatest work, in us and in his kingdom, can be done.  

The little itch we so desperately want the pastor, choir or band to scratch is nothing compared to the clogged arteries that lurk beneath the surface.  

Our felt needs are usually not our greatest needs.  We need to accept the meal God offers us.  

It's not about us.