“It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” has never been one of my favorite Christmas carols.  I stumble over a couple of things in the song, one being the commonly sung tune.  Critiquing a tune is subjective, I know, so I don’t expect anyone to agree with me.  Let me just say that I don’t think a song about the angelic announcement of Christ’s birth should make me envision the congregation joining hands and whistling one of the verses.  And it certainly shouldn’t make me think of roller skating.  The other thing I struggle with is the idea of winged angels singing, when the Scripture says nothing about wings or singing.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying…. (Luke 2:13).

And then I heard Sara Groves’s version. Read the rest of this entry »

One thing that will stoke your worship is to grasp the difference between the triune God versus the solitary “gods” and devils of this world.  Lewis’s senior demon in The Screwtape Letters draws the contrast well.  Speaking from the perspective of Satan, Screwtape says,

We want cattle who can finally become food; He wants servants who can finally become sons.  We want to suck in, He wants to give out.  We are empty and would be filled; He is full and flows over.
(quoted in Michael Reeves, Delighting in the Trinity, 45)

Satan and the other so-called gods of this world, in their solitariness, use creation.  Nature and people are to them tools for their own selfish ends.

God, being triune, is altogether different.  He makes sons of us because he is an eternal Father to the eternal Son.  He gives freely to us because he is a life-giving Spirit.  God is full and overflowing because from all eternity he has lived in love and joy in himself as the Three-in-One.

God doesn’t use us because, being Trinity, he doesn’t need us.  Before the world ever was, in himself, God is love.

 

Yesterday we held a worship service in which we expressed sorrow and grief.  Talk about counter-cultural.  Why would we do such an unhappy thing?  Because we believe the gospel has something to say to sad believers.  The work of Christ is deep enough to encompass the entire emotional range of our lives.

Of course we used the Psalms.  About that neglected book, here is the lead quote from our worship bulletin, from the wonderfully provocative Carl Trueman:

I would like to make just one observation: the Psalms, the Bible’s own hymnbook, have almost entirely dropped from view in the contemporary Western evangelical scene.  I am not certain about why this should be, but I have an instinctive feel that it has more than a little to do with the fact that a high proportion of the Psalter is taken up with lamentation, with feeling sad, unhappy, tormented, and broken.  In modern Western culture, these are simply not emotions which have much credibility: sure, people still feel these things, but to admit that they are a normal part of one’s everyday life is tantamount to admitting that one has failed in today’s health, wealth, and happiness society.  And, of course, if one does admit to them, one must neither accept them nor take any personal responsibility for them: one must blame one’s parents, sue one’s employer, pop a pill, or check into a clinic in order to have such dysfunctional emotions soothed and one’s self-image restored….  By excluding the cries of loneliness, dispossession, and desolation from its worship, the church has effectively silenced and excluded the voices of those who are themselves lonely, dispossessed, and desolate, both inside and outside the church.

I hope our church will lament together more often in the future.  It’s remarkable how a downer-of-a-service can be so uplifting.  The Spirit of the Suffering Servant was present, and his comfort was real.

Swimming Biblically

August 1, 2011

Here's one of my advanced swimming techniques. Maybe I'm missing something.

I love being in water. At the gym, in the ocean, even the shower. Water is great. And I really enjoy swimming, but I have a confession. I’m terrible at swimming. Sure, I can move through the water at a good pace, but I’m horribly inefficient and my arms end up doing all the work. I hear that swimming is a whole body exercise, but I’m okay with my purely functional windmill stroke. After all, I’m in the water, I enjoy it immensely, and I’m content.

But what if, in my Bible reading, I discovered passages that described particular techniques for to enhance my swimming. I wouldn’t have to do them all, especially not all at once, but shouldn’t I want to look into these strokes and see if it helped my swimming? That’s one way of looking at the biblical examples of outward expression in worship. What does the Bible say about how God’s people express themselves in worship?

Read the rest of this entry »

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend a worship service at Precept Ministries’ Boot Camp. It was a great opportunity to hear the word in an unfamiliar setting, and a treat to simply be in a service instead of leading it.

By the time we got to the second song, I was feeling quite awkward. I didn’t know why. There was nothing about the service that was distracting, but I struggled to stay engaged. After spending a few moments in self examination, I settled on by problem. It was… my hands. I didn’t know what to do with my hands. I tried letting them hang, sticking them in my pockets, and crossing my arms, but I just felt awkward.

To put this in my unique context, I must explain a little more. For the last 11 years, I’ve been leading worship every week. Every week, I seek to sing to God and invite others to join me with a microphone in one hand and a collection of gestures and cues in the other. About twice a year, I get to worship in the congregation empty handed. It is always a treat. But as you can imagine, leading worship for over 1,200 services creates strong muscle memory.

Muscle memory is the term used to describe the culmination of doing something over and over until the body doesn’t have to consciously do the task. The muscle kind of remembers what to do, and how to react. Soldiers drill to gain muscle memory. Athletes practice serves or routes or swings until they become second nature. They hope to gain that clarity of mind, but for me, muscle memory became a source of distraction.

I was suddenly very aware of my posture as we sang. I didn’t know what to do with my hands. Because I couldn’t grab a mic and start signaling the pianist, my body was unsure of what to do while we sang. As soon as I recognized my problem, I knew what I needed. I smiled and thanked God for His nudge. I needed to remember and rehearse what God has told us about our posture in worship. God primarily wants our hearts engaged in worship, but He is far from silent regarding our outer posture when we gather for worship. I set my heart on God and adjusted my stance to reflect it. And suddenly, I was free. I fought for focus and self forgetfulness through the rest of the service, and I was rewarded my a beautiful time of worship. As we sat down and prepared to hear from the Word, another thought crossed my mind. We need to talk more about our posture in worship, both internal and external. I need to blog a bit.

Over the next two weeks, I’ll post some thoughts and reflections on how the Bible speaks of our posture in worship. I’ll look at several verses and encourage you to work through them with me. I hope you will find it surprising, helpful, and ultimately freeing as we meet to worship our triune God together.

P.S. What do you think I did with my hands? The answer probably isn’t what you’d expect. Maybe I’ll answer that in the next post.