Category Archives: General Christian Worship
The fourth of July weekend is a tricky one in churches in the US. It’s especially tricky in culturally conservative parts of the country, though I don’t imagine that there’s any place that’s immune.
Anything to do with patriotism, in general, invites a lot of silliness that we wouldn’t embrace in other situations. No lie, I have been to a Christian “worship service” that included a civil war reenactment and a delivery of the Gettysburg address. (Of course, the battle ended with Lincoln guiding the two sides to stop fighting and shake hands, though I suppose the alternative – John Wilkes Booth playing the part of Judas – would have been even worse.)
Because the ideas of “God” and “country” have become so intertwined, the identity of the church as the transnational bride of Christ becomes obscured. Evangelicals in the US embrace Thomas Jefferson while shunning John Shelby Spong, despite their remarkably similar views on the Bible. Many Americans come into corporate worship on or around July 4 expecting to sing about a Grand Old Flag and amber waves of grain. In fact, many pastors and music leaders get angry calls and/or emails if America isn’t celebrated. (NB: There’s a difference between being thankful for freedoms enjoyed in America and celebrating America in a time that’s supposed to be reserved for Jesus. An Iraqi Christian living in Peoria can be thankful for the freedom to worship freely without having to say the Pledge of Allegiance.)
The wise thing to do isn’t to put up a huge middle finger and accuse everyone of idolatry. Because it’s the air so many of us have breathed for so long (especially our parents and grandparents), dealing with matters of God and country requires gentleness and wisdom. But neither should we cave in and sing My Country ‘Tis of Thee or The Battle Hymn of the Republic.
So what do I do? I cheat. We sing my favorite “fake” patriotic hymn: God of Our Fathers. It has enough civil connotation to evoke some of the nostalgia that hymns to America do, yet the text isn’t about America, it’s about our fathers (and mothers) in the faith. It’s much more Hebrews 11 than July 1776.
As wonderful as they are, the stars and stripes won’t last forever. Jesus’ kingdom will.
This week, we begin our rehearsals before holding our first worship services in our new church building on September 12.
I’m also in the process of cleaning up our Order of Worship format to be more readable and helpful. More on that to come.
(Reading books like REWORK have done wonders in helping me as an editor. Superfluous words choke out meaning.)
Here is a doxology that I wrote a few years back based upon the Doxology to Martin Luther’s hymn “Savior of the Nations, Come”.
Praise to God the Father sing.
Praise to God the Son, our King.
Praise to God the Spirit be,
Ever and eternally.
Here’s the closing prayer:
Master, this day is our day to stand and look. To be amazed and disturbed. This is a day to put away glad songs, and to see the terrible cost of our salvation. This is also a day to believe, and as Watts said, to know what is demanded in the Great Exchange at the heart of the Gospel. Forgive me for living in the shadow of this bloody execution as if it were religious art or a cultural symbol or the inspiration for music or preaching. This is my life, my death, my sin and your love. This is the beating of the heart of a Christian. Give me grace to pause and look. To see, feel, weep and above all, believe and keep on believing. Through Jesus. Amen.
Words from John Piper:
[T]he essence of worship is not external, localized acts, but an inner, Godward experience that shows itself externally not primarily in church services (though they are important) but primarily in daily expressions of allegiance to God.
Brothers, We Are Not Professionals, page 228 (ebook edition)
I’ve added a new category to the website: Preaching.
I preach occasionally at our church and have recently come to be more interested in what it means to preach Biblically, clearly, and to the heart. It’s not completely outside of the realm of this website, either, given that it is an integral part of the corporate worship of God. And, the lines between the content of the preaching and the content of the worship service should be consonant.
John Witvliet said at the Where Are the Psalms? Conference that one of the goals when composing a sermon should be to ask and answer the question, “What Psalm should we, as a congregation, sing or pray in response to this passage?”
I can’t promise that the preaching material will be insightful or ground-breaking or even learned. After all, I’ve spent many more years as a musician than as a preacher. Hopefully, though, the preaching material will be cogent, clear, and helpful.
Though I have limited opportunity to preach, I enjoy preaching and have a very high view of the calling of the preacher to faithfulness and clarity.