Christianity 201

September 24, 2017

Sunday Worship

Worship is not Something We Experience

NCV I Kings 18:36 At the time for the evening sacrifice, the prophet Elijah went near the altar. “Lord, you are the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel,” he prayed. “Prove that you are the God of Israel and that I am your servant. Show these people that you commanded me to do all these things. 37 Lord, answer my prayer so these people will know that you, Lord, are God and that you will change their minds.”

[full passage in NCV]

Several years ago I took some time to really drink in and absorb the book, The Jesus Way by Eugene Peterson (Eerdman’s) and spread the reading out over several weeks, which is really what I 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

February 22, 2013

The Second Psalm

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Psalm 2

New International Version 1984 (NIV1984)

Why do the nations conspire
    and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth take their stand
    and the rulers gather together
against the Lord
    and against his Anointed One.
“Let us break their chains,” they say,
    “and throw off their fetters.”

The One enthroned in heaven laughs;
    the Lord scoffs at them.
Then he rebukes them in his anger
    and terrifies them in his wrath, saying,
“I have installed my King
    on Zion, my holy hill.”

I will proclaim the decree of the Lord:

He said to me, “You are my Son;
    today I have become your Father.
Ask of me,
    and I will make the nations your inheritance,
    the ends of the earth your possession.
You will rule them with an iron scepter;
    you will dash them to pieces like pottery.”

10 Therefore, you kings, be wise;
    be warned, you rulers of the earth.
11 Serve the Lord with fear
    and rejoice with trembling.
12 Kiss the Son, lest he be angry
    and you be destroyed in your way,
for his wrath can flare up in a moment.
    Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

Spoiler alert: This is from the final pages of Eugene Peterson’s The Jesus Way.

…Psalm 2… is a favorite psalm of new Testament writers.  It is quoted or alluded to nine times…  It shares honors with Psalm 110 as the most quoted psalm in the new Testament.  The contrast with our times is significant.  What are our favorite psalms?  What psalms have we memorized?  Psalm 23 tops the chart.  Psalms 1 and 100 and 121 are runners-up.  But Psalm 2?

Psalm 2 provides a text-prayer for personally realizing and internalizing, feeling in our gut and in our muscles, the unbridgeable abyss fixed between the ways of this world – its Herod and Caiaphas and Josephus ways, and also the counter ways pursued by the Pharisee and Essene and Zealot sects – and the Strong God and his Messiah:  “Don’t you know there’s a King in Zion?”  (Ps. 2:5, The Message)

The first generation of Christians took Jesus at his word when he announced that his kingdom was at hand – a real (not ideal) kingdom with a real king, King Jesus.  The words and sentences of Psalm 2 dismissed the pretensions of all these other ways and let Christ the King permeate their preaching and prayers and following.  They followed the resurrected Jesus with an air of triumph and praise. The gospel was not something private that they cultivated in the cozy security of their homes and hearts; it was public, the most powerful force in human history, shaping the destiny of nations as well as the souls of men and women.

The context for these remarks is his contention that the prayer of Acts 4:24-30 originated “out of long meditation and much praying of Psalm 2…”  In Peterson’s own words (as he translates The Message from the original language) the prayer reads:

One Heart, One Mind

Acts 23-26 …“Strong God, you made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them. By the Holy Spirit you spoke through the mouth of your servant and our father, David:

Why the big noise, nations?
Why the mean plots, peoples?
Earth’s leaders push for position,
Potentates meet for summit talks,
The God-deniers, the Messiah-defiers!

27-28 “For in fact they did meet—Herod and Pontius Pilate with nations and peoples, even Israel itself!—met in this very city to plot against your holy Son Jesus, the One you made Messiah, to carry out the plans you long ago set in motion.

29-30 “And now they’re at it again! Take care of their threats and give your servants fearless confidence in preaching your Message, as you stretch out your hand to us in healings and miracles and wonders done in the name of your holy servant Jesus.”

In The Jesus Way, Peterson continues:

And there is this:  the prayer is Trinitarian.  It is addressed to God the Creator: “Strong God, you made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them” (Acts 4:24).  It uses as its text the inspired words of David that God spoke “by the Holy Spirit” (v. 25); and all the action is entered in “your holy Son, Jesus… messiah”(v. 27).

A unique thing was taking place in the Christian church as our early ancestors were saying and praying what they believed — a formulation of God as Holy Trinity. This prayer was laying the groundwork for that formulation. Two thousand years later Trinity continues to serve as both the most succinct and the most comprehensive way to maintain our bearings as we follow Jesus and stay alert to the uniqueness of what it means to follow him in a world that is dominated by the power and popular…

By insisting that God is three-personed — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; God-in-community — we are given an understanding of God that is emphatically personal. The only way he reveals himself or works among us is personally. God is personal under the personal designations of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and never in any other way. Never impersonally as Force or Influence. Never impersonally as Idea or Cause.

It is the easiest thing in the world for us to use words as a kind of abstract truth or principle, to distribute the good news in tabloids of information. Trinity prevents us from doing this. We can never get away with depersonalizing either the gospel or God to make things easier, simpler, or more convenient.

And Trinity is a perpetual reminder that the only way we can follow in the way of Jesus is by being personal participants — not just by thinking right thoughts or carrying out assigned tasks, but prayerfully and believingly involved in the very lives with whom, name by name, face by face, God is involved.

For those of you who enjoy Peterson’s writings, a new book, Practice Resurrection, is now available in paperback from Eerdmans.  To read another excerpt from The Jesus Way, click here.

May 26, 2012

Eugene Peterson Quotations

Pastor, author, academic lecturer, the Message translator, pastor to pastors; all those words summarize Eugene Peterson. Because he is quoted so often, instead of going to quote sites this time around, I simply searched out the phrase, “Eugene Peterson writes;” which rewarded me with more than enough material for us to consider today, though sadly, about half lacked full attribution, so today we’re just going to enjoy the quotes themselves apart from their sources. There’s actually more than a week’s worth of meditation here. Again, look for that one quotation which resonates especially.


“Christian faith is not neurotic dependency but childlike trust. We do not have a God who forever indulges our whims but a God whom we trust with our destinies.”


“It’s possible to claim the name Christian without being Christian at all – that is, without following Christ. Jesus is far more than a theological icon to believe in; he is a person to follow. He is not just the truth; he is the way. But those who follow Jesus are constantly in danger of getting lost, for we live in a culture that stands in huge contrast to Jesus…Jesus shows us how to live this gospel-based life, but he doesn’t give us a how-to manual. Rather, the local congregation, the company of praying men and women, is the primary place where we discover the way of Jesus.”


“Waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy.”


“In the call to worship we hear God’s first word to us; in the benediction we hear God’s last word to us; in the Scripture lessons we hear God speaking to our fathers; in the sermon we hear that word re-expressed to us; in the hymns, which are all to a greater or lesser extent paraphrases of Scripture, the Word of God makes our prayers articulate.”


“The Bible is not a script for a funeral service, but it is the record of God always bringing life where we expected to find death. Everywhere it is the story of resurrection.”


“The mature Christian life involves a congruence of grace and work.”


“Our days are busy with little leisure for frills. We have work to do, interests to pursue, books to read, letters to write, the telephone to answer, errands to run, children to raise, investments to tend to, the lawn to mow, food to prepare and serve, the garbage to take out. We don’t need God’s help or counsel in doing any of these things. God is necessary for the big things, most obviously creation and salvation. But for the rest we can, for the most part, take care of ourselves. That usually adds up to a workable life, at least when accompanied by a decent job and a good digestion. But—it is not the practice of resurrection; it is not growing up in Christ, it is not living in the company of the Trinity.”


“A sense of hurry in pastoral work disqualifies one for the work of conversation and prayer that develops relationships that meet personal needs. There are heavy demands put upon pastoral work, true; there is difficult work to be engaged in, yes. But the pastor must not be ‘busy.’… there must be a wide margin of leisure.”


“Intimacy [with God] does not preclude reverence. True intimacy does not eliminate a sacred awe.”


“Individualism is the growth-stunting, maturity-inhibiting habit of understanding growth as an isolated self-project. Individualism is self-ism with swagger. The individualist is the person who is convinced that he or she can serve God without dealing with God. This is the person who is sure that he or she can love neighbors without knowing their names. This is the person who assumes that ‘getting ahead’ involves leaving other people behind. This is the person who having gained competence in knowing God or people or world, uses that knowledge to take charge of God or people or world.”


“Sabbath is not primarily about us or how it benefits us; it’s about God and how he forms us. It’s not, in the first place, about what we do or don’t do; it’s about God completing and resting and blessing and sanctifying. These are all things we don’t know much about; they are beyond us but not beyond our recognition and participation.”


““…Forgiveness is the last word.  I take no interest in eliminating the tension between justice and forgiveness by taking justice off the table.  …  But I am interested in reintroducing the priority of this Jesus-prayed forgiveness into our lives.  In matters of sin and injustice and evil, the last prayer of Jesus  (“forgive them, they know not what they do”)  is not for justice but for forgiveness. …  Assuming that the criminal crucified next to Jesus was receiving a just death sentence (he said as much himself), the sentence was not revoked in Jesus’ prayer.  The criminal died for his crime.  But forgiveness trumped justice.  It always does. “


“Theology is about God, and God is Spirit … we have accumulated a lot of experience in the Christian community of persons treating theology as a subject in which God is studied in the ways we are taught to study in our schools—acquiring information that we can use, or satisfying our curiosity, or obtaining qualifications for a job or profession. There are, in fact, a lot of people within and outside formal religious settings who talk and write a lot about spirituality, things of the spirit or the soul or “higher things,” but are not interested in God. There is a wonderful line in T. H. White’s novel of King Arthur (The Once and Future King), in which Guinevere in her old age becomes the abbess of a convent: ‘she was a wonderful theologian but she wasn’t interested in God.’ It happens.”


“Song and dance are the result of an excess energy. When we are normal we talk, when we are dying wewhisper, but when there is more in us than we containwe sing. When we are healthy we walk, whenwe are decrepit we shuffle, but when we are beyond ourselves with vitality we dance.”


“The resurrection of Jesus creates and makes available the reality in which we are formed as new creatures in Christ by the Holy Spirit. This is a foreign concept in our ego-centric, do-it-yourself, control freakish society. However, the Christian life is a Jesus-resurrection life, a life in us that is accomplished by the power of the resurrection, the Holy Spirit.”