Christianity 201

February 11, 2018

Sunday Worship

Today’s guest writer is my wife. This is a series of readings she put together in the church where she was leading last week, along with lines from the songs they sang corresponding to each aspect of congregational worship.

Sometimes When We Sing

by Ruth Wilkinson

One of the precious things we do when we meet together as the Church is to sing. Together.

Sometimes when we sing together, we sing to each other.
I sing you my story, you sing me yours.  We remind each other of who God is.

Our posture is face to face, looking each other in the eye, like the Psalm writers who said:
Sing to Yahweh! Sing praise to Him; tell about all His wonderful works!
Remember what He’s done: His wonders, and His judgments.
-Psalm 105
I love the Lord because He’s heard my cry for mercy.
And because He’s turned His ear to me, I will call out to Him as long as I live.

-Psalm 116

Oh, happy day! Oh, happy day!
When Jesus washed, when he washed my sins away!
He taught me how to walk, fight and pray,
And live rejoicing everyday
 ***
Forever God is faithful,
Forever God is strong,
Forever God is with us,
Forever
***
Sometimes when we sing together, we sing to God.
We sing to say “Thank you,” to say “I’m sorry,” to say “We love you.”
Our posture is eyes raised, hands reaching high, like the Psalm writers who said:
I look at Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars that You set in place and wonder –
who are we that You think of us? 
What are the sons and daughters of man that You care for us?

Yahweh, our Lord,
How majestic is Your name in all the earth!

-Psalm 8

We are a moment, You are forever,
Lord of the ages, God before time
 ***
O Lord, my God, when I in awesome wonder
Consider all the worlds Thy hands have made,
Then sings my soul, my Saviour God to Thee!
***
Sometimes when we sing together we sing as one – together.
We sing our shared history, our shared experience, our shared future.
Our posture is hand in hand, arms across shoulders, elbows linked, like the Psalm writers who said:
God is our refuge and strength, a helper who is always found
– when the earth trembles and the mountains topple,
when the waters of the sea roar and foam 
and shake the land.

Come on, let’s shout joyfully to the Lord,
shout triumphantly to the rock of our salvation!
For He is our God, and we are His people.

-Psalm 46, Psalm 95

In the name of the Father, in the name of the Son,
In the name of the Spirit, Lord, we come
Gathered together to lift up your name
Our God saves, Our God saves,
There is hope in your name
 ***
Our God is an awesome God!
***
 Sometimes when we sing together, we sing as one – each alone.
Each one alone before the Father who created us,
alone beside the Son who died for us,
alone in a body that’s wrapped around the Spirit who fills us.
Our posture may be eyes closed or open, head bowed or lifted high, knees bent or standing tall – like the Psalm writers who said:
 
You, Lord, are a shield around me;
You’re my glory, and the One who lifts my head.
I can lie down and sleep and I can wake again because You sustain me.
-Psalm 3
 
Lord, my heart isn’t proud; my eyes aren’t haughty.
I don’t get involved with things that are beyond me.
Instead, I calm and quiet myself like a little child with its mother;
I am your child.

-Psalm 131

In the morning when I rise,
When I am alone,
When I come to die
Give me Jesus;
You can have all this world,
Give me Jesus
***

 

September 19, 2013

Bible Study Shouldn’t (and Can’t) Replace Church

Sometimes a comment left here leads me to yet another source of material. Although today’s item doesn’t begin with a key text — there are several for you to look up toward the end of the article — it is important to have this here because it would be tragic to think that there are people reading this as a substitute for being part of a local Christian assembly.  It appeared on the blog A Parched Soul, under the title Your Bible Study is Not the Church (click through to read at source) and the author is Grayson Pope.


If you were to survey the landscape of Christian blogs and culture today, you might come away with two notions concerning the church:

  1. It is broken
  2. It is redefinable

The first of these is reasonable. Many churches seem very broken. Sex scandals, misuse of tithes, and condemnation are all too familiar tales these days, unfortunately.

worshiping togetherThere are always areas in which the church can be improved. This will be true as long as sinners are in charge of running them.

The second point, that the church is redefinable, is where we have gone seriously astray. A common headline or title of a post on a popular Christian site might well read like one of the following:

  • “Why I Left the Church”
  • “How I found God Outside the Church”
  • “Why I’m a Christian but I Don’t go to Church”

(Let me be very clear before moving on: I believe the church is in need of repair. I believe there are very real problems with her, or more appropriately, how we have chosen to engage her. But I also believe she is the hope of this world, indeed the only one it has.)

These pseudo-titles above give us insight into the heart of what Christians think about the church at this point in history. In short, they find it open to interpretation, as if it is Play-Doh which can be kneaded, molded, or reshaped in the hands of a man.

Some believe worship with the family in the living room replaces corporate worship with a congregation. Others believe social ministry or their Bible study group in a coffee shop is their church.

It is tempting, to be sure. The social ministry field is seen as alive and vibrant, compared to the stale pews and stiff suits so many think of when church comes to mind. Huddling around a Starbucks table seems culturally rebellious and gives a sense of thrill.

Those things are not bad, but they are not the church. They may be called church by those involved, but they undermine thousands of years of ecclesiology, whether they do so knowingly or not.

They are mistaken. And it is hurting their faith.

James Emery White, who has spent much of his life studying the church and leading one, says for many this,

…has led to a trivialization of the church; for a growing minority it has led to a hunger for a deeper sense of church…

This gives rise to,

…those who intimate that the idea of the church in the New Testament is either embryonic or ethereal that we have the freedom to define the church as we wish. This is simply not the case.

If then, the church is not open to interpretation as we thought, what is it that marks it? Again, we turn to the work of White on the subject. He details what he calls the “5 C’s” in his book, Christ Among the Dragons, that give clarity to the biblical and historical view of the church.

To be the church, the following must be present:

  1. Community: “To be a church, we must be a community of faith. This community should not be segmented in any way, whether by race, ethnicity, gender or age…(see Gal 3:28; 1 Tim 4:12)
  2. Confession: “If a Christian church is anything, it is foundationally confessional, for the earliest mark of the Christian movement was the clear confession that Jesus is the Christ (Mark 8:29) and the Lord (Romans 10:9).”
  3. Corporate: “The Bible speaks of defined organizational roles such as pastors/elders/bishops/deacons, as well as corporate roles related to spiritual gifts such as teachers, administers and leaders (Romans 12; 1 Cor 12; Eph 4; 1 Pet 4).”
  4. Celebration: “The church is to gather for public worship as a unified community of faith, which includes the stewarding of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, for these were not in the public domain.”
  5. Cause: “…this involves active evangelism with subsequent discipleship, coupled with strategic service to the needy. We are to be the body of Christ to the world, and the twin dynamics of evangelism and social concern reflect Christ’s ongoing mission.”

These 5 C’s are what mark the church and what make it the church. They cannot be achieved to the same level as Jesus would have them outside of the local church.

Do you think you church is open to interpretation? Have you seen someone try to replace their church experience with another of some kind?

November 18, 2012

Worship in the Psalms

The blog Fresh Read is working through a study of The Psalms and provides some excellent online devotional commentary. Here are two recent posts, one dealing with Psalm 146 and the other with the first verse of Psalm 147. Click the title for each to link directly and locate other entries.

Together & Alone – Psalm 146

Praise the Lord.

Praise the Lord, O my soul.
I will praise the Lord all my life;
I will sing praise to my God as long as I live

Psalm 146:1-2 (NIV_84)

Hallelujah is a Hebrew word.  It is a verb that calls us to Praise the Lord.  It is possible in Hebrew to have verbs for an individual or for a group.  This word is for a group.  It means, “Let us, together, praise the Lord.”

While Israel lived in tents, before they entered the Promised Land.  They would put the Tent of God in the middle of all their tents.  Each tribe was arranged around the tent of worship.  God was at the center of their community.  (Numbers 2)

When they enter the Promised Land they put the tent of worship in one place.  Later Solomon built a temple in Jerusalem.  The people would come from all over to worship God in this one place.  They worshiped together in Jerusalem.  (Psalm 48)

Worshiping God is something that we do together.  Hallelujah is a command. It calls us to get together, and to worship God together.  You could watch a church meeting on TV or on the Computer.  You could stay at home with a cup of tea and be part of a church service.  You could go to TV church in my pajamas.  It would be much easier when it snows here in Wisconsin?

“Hallelujah” is a call to meet together.  His people honor the Lord when they meet together.  They show that God loves many people and many kinds of people when we meet together.  They give each other encouragement when they meet together and say “Welcome.”  And when they say, “Praise the Lord.”

It is also important to praise the Lord alone.

In verse 1 the Psalmist speaks to his own soul.  He says, “Praise the Lord, O my soul.”

In verse 2 he says, “I will praise the Lord as long as I live.”

These verses are for the individual.  The bible has stories about how God looks on the heart, not on the outside.  David was chosen to be king, even though he was the youngest in his family, because his heart was strong for the Lord.  Isaiah spoke in warning of those whose lips offered praise, but their hearts were not in it. (Is 29:13)

It is important to Praise God together. It is also important to  praise God from the heart.

There is balance in the pronouns.


Why Worship? Psalm 147:1

Praise the Lord.

How good it is to sing praises to our God,

    how pleasant and fitting to praise him!

We gather to praise the Lord together.  Have you ever wondered why?  Maybe it is a tradition – your parents and their parents did this.  But there are better reasons than simple repetition and tradition.

This psalm says that praising the Lord is good, pleasant and fitting.

It is good in many ways.  Only the ungrateful do not give thanks for a gift.  We all think it good to thanks our parents, to thank a vet, to thank a neighbor who lends a hand.  It is good because there is not harm in it, not sin.  It is good because Praise realigns our hearts from despair or doubt – when we praise we remember what God has done.

It is pleasant. Isn’t it delightful to hear good music?  Don’t you enjoy singing a great old hymn, even if you have more enthusiasm than skill?  God desires that our walk with him is delightful and pleasant.  We are not called to be grim, sour legalists.  We are called to live in delight.

It is fitting.   Sooner or later you will run into someone who says that this is all a waste of time.  Why are we here praising God when we could be doing something useful?  During the Civil War the army wanted to close churches and turn them into hospitals.  Lincoln stopped this idea because he said that a nation has to have a place to pray, especially in times of distress and danger.


Mission Statement: Christianity 201 is a melting-pot of devotional and Bible study content from across the widest range of the Christian blogosphere. An individual article may be posted even if some or all readers might not agree with other things posted at the same blog, and two posts may follow on consecutive days by authors with very different doctrinal perspectives. The Kingdom of God is so much bigger than the small portion of it we can see from our personal vantage point, and one of the purposes of C201 is to allow readers a ‘macro’ view of the many ministries and individual voices available for reading.

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January 25, 2012

Can Worship Be Defined in Terms of Experience?

Over the weekend, I brought my obsession with Eugene Peterson to my readers at Thinking Out Loud, but I wanted to share the quotation — which my wife graciously typed out for me — with readers here…

For several days at Christianity 201, I’ve been sharing my excitement over discovering that Eugene Peterson The Message bible translator is also Eugene Peterson the author. For those of you who’ve known this secret for some time, I apologize for arriving late to the party. I’m reading The Jesus Way (Eerdman’s) and spreading the reading out over several weeks, which is really what is needed to take it all in.

Each section of the book deals with the different “ways” of living that some choose, including Old Testament characters such as Abraham, Moses and Elijah. The study of the text is most thorough, but in each section, Peterson breaks away from the text long enough to provide contemporary application. He minces no words in his concern over the state of the modern church in the west, particularly in North America with which he is most familiar.

The study on Elijah’s showdown on Mount Carmel with the prophets of Baal yielded these comments:


“Harlotry” is the stock prophetic criticism of the worship of the people who are assimilated to Baalistic forms. While the prophetic accusation of “harlotry” has a literal reference to the sacred prostitution of the Baal cult, it is also a metaphor that extends its meaning into the entire theology of worship, worship that seeks fulfillment through self-expression, worship that accepts the needs and desires and passions of the worshiper as its baseline. “Harlotry” is worship that says, “I will give you satisfaction. You want religious feelings? I will give them to you. You want your needs fulfilled? I’ll do it in the form most arousing to you.” A divine will that sets itself in opposition to the sin-tastes and self-preoccupations of humanity is incomprehensible in Baalism and is so impatiently discarded. Baalism reduces worship to the spiritual stature of the worshiper. Its canons are that it should be interesting, relevant and exciting – that I “get something out of it.”

Baal’s Mount Carmel altar lacks neither action nor ecstasy. The 450 priests put on quite a show. But the altar call comes up empty.

Yahweh’s altar is presided over by the solitary prophet Elijah. It is a quiet affair, a worship that is centered on the God of the covenant. Elijah prepares the altar and prays briefly and simply. In Yahwism something is said – words that call men and women to serve, love, obey, sing, adore, act responsibly, decide. Authentic worship means being present to the living God who penetrates the whole of human life. The proclamation of God’s word and our response to God’s Spirit touches everything that is involved in being human: mind and body, thinking and feeling, work and family, friends and government, buildings and flowers.

Sensory participation is not excluded – how could it be if the whole person is to be presented to God? When the people of God worship there are bodily postures of standing and kneeling and prostration in prayer. Sacred dances and antiphonal singing express community solidarity. Dress and liturgy develop dramatic energies. Solemn silence sensitizes ears to listen. But as rich and varied as the sensory life is, it is always defined and ordered by the word of God. Nothing is done simply for the sake of the sensory experience involved – which eliminates all propagandistic and emotional manipulation.

A frequently used phrase in North American culture that is symptomatic of Baalistic tendencies in worship is “let’s have a worship experience.” It is the Baalistic perversion of “let us worship God.” It is the difference between cultivating something that makes sense to an individual, and acting in response to what makes sense to God. In a “worship experience”, a person sees something that excites him or her and goes about putting spiritual wrappings around it. A person experiences something in the realm of dependency, anxiety, love, loss, or joy and a connection is made with the ultimate. Worship becomes a movement from what I see or experience or hear, to prayer or celebration or discussion in a religious setting. Individual feelings trump the word of God.

Biblically formed people of God do not use the term “worship” as a description of experience, such as “I can have a worship experience with God on the golf course.” What that means is, “I can have religious feelings reminding me of good things, awesome things, beautiful things nearly any place.” Which is true enough. The only thing wrong with the statement is its ignorance, thinking that such experience makes up what the Christian church calls worship.

The biblical usage is very different. It talks of worship as a response to God’s word in the context of the community of God’s people. Worship in the biblical sources and in liturgical history is not something a person experiences, it is something we do, regardless of how we feel about it, or whether we feel anything about it at all. The experience develops out of the worship, not the other way around. Isaiah saw, heard, and felt on the day he received his prophetic call while at worship in the temple – but he didn’t go there in order to have a “seraphim experience”.

At the Mount Carmel Yahweh altar things are very different. Elijah prays briefly. The fire falls. The altar call brings “all the people” to their knees. They make their decision: “Yahweh, he is God; Yahweh, he is God.” And then the rain comes.

~Eugene Peterson

June 3, 2011

Everyday Worship

Canadian pastor and Tyndale Seminary instructor Jeff Loach has been on my Thinking Out Loud blogroll for a long time, but apparently I’ve never excerpted any of his material here.  This post may seem so very basic, but it is equally so easily forgotten.  It first appeared on his blog under the title Worship as a Lifestyle Choice.

Did you know that you should worship God every day?

One of the things I learned this week as I prepared to preach on the second commandment is that it has a lot to say to us about worship.  And heaven knows that one of the many things that Christians like to differ on, and sometimes argue about, is worship:  hymns or praise songs?  Organ or guitar?  High liturgy or low liturgy?  (There’s no such thing as ‘no liturgy’.)  All of these questions, and others, cause believers both joy and angst, depending on the situation.

I’m learning, though, that if we worship God every day, many of these questions fade into the background.  True, we still have our preferences, and our cultural norms, but when we make a daily habit of worshipping God, they matter less when we gather as a community on Sunday.

Worship can, and should, be a lifestyle choice.

But does that mean we give up whatever else we’re doing and head on down to the church to sit in a pew (or on a chair)?  Not necessarily.  That’s not an option for most of us.

Does it mean taking time each day for Scripture reading, reflection, and prayer?  Yes.  But most of us can’t do that all day, either.  (We praise God for those saints who are in a position to spend much of their time in devotion and intercession, but they are rarer than not.)

It does mean, however, looking at our daily activities in a new light.  For example, if you have a job (paid or volunteer), do you see your work as worship?  You can, and you should!  The apostle Paul wrote to the church in Colossae, “Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people” (Colossians 3.23, NLT).

You can make your everyday tasks acts of worship.  You can do a good job because you want to praise God with your work.  You can be courteous to people in the grocery store because you want to praise God with your shopping.  You can be considerate of other drivers, because you want to praise God with your driving (whether or not you have a fish on your bumper!).  These are all ways of worshipping as a lifestyle choice.

Cloistered monks refer to their daily offices, their prescribed times of worship, as “the work of God”.  We who are not set aside for monastic vows, however, can make every task we undertake into “the work of God”.  Just do whatever you do as an act of praise.  Worship God with every aspect of your life.  And watch what happens to your perspective on Sunday.  The invitation to worship that you receive will become more of a familiar call, more of a ‘comfy shoes’ feeling, because you’re being invited to do something together that you do at other times apart from the community of faith.

Let every breath be praise!  After all, it was God who gave us breath in the first place.