Over the years in this space we’ve talked about inspiration—where and how and when we’re moved to make something new and fresh. For me recently, it was a something very old: the song “Not What My Hands Have Done,” LUYH 624, PsH 260 written in the 1860s by Horatius Bonar. There were fewer than twenty people at a staff retreat where this song was part of the morning’s opening worship.
What would it look like to offer up worship with reverence and awe? Well, it may not be quite what you expect! It certainly wasn’t what I expected as I opened up Hebrews with a group of Christians some time ago. Don’t get me wrong; I knew the “golden verse” on why we do church at all was in there (“Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing” (Hebrews 10:24–25, NIV). That was no shocker, and I think most of us knew it practically by heart.
The following discussion is from the second part of a session led by Dr. Charlotte vanOyen Witvliet, Rev. Cindy Holtrop, Dr. Warren Kinghorn, and Dr. John Swinton at the Calvin Symposium on Worship in January 2018. The first section appeared in Reformed Worship 129 and dealt with the promises and pitfalls around public worship and mental health. The rest of the session focuses on prayer.
Leviticus is one of the most underread and underappreciated books of the whole Bible. Pastors who choose a sermon text from Leviticus might expect their listeners’ eyes to glaze over as they anticipate a scholarly description of outdated laws pertaining to everything from mold and mildew to skin disease and bodily fluids. Leviticus also includes descriptions of violent and bloody sacrifices, thou-shalt-not rules on shellfish, and instructions for days set apart for special observance each week, month, and year.
The Same Old Story
It always felt wrong, and I thought maybe it was just me. But then I heard similar musings from fellow pastors who also felt guilty about it. Easter, after all, is the liturgical high point in the Christian year. More so even than Christmas, Easter sees churches packed to overflowing. So why as a pastor did I sometimes see Easter Sunday coming down the pike and feel a sense of . . . well, not dread, but a certain heaviness—the kind of thing that could wring a sigh or two from me?
Gather in Silence
Call to Worship
The grace and peace of the Lord be with you.
And also with you.
O crucified Jesus,
Son of the Father,
conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
eternal Word of God,
we worship you.
O crucified Jesus,
holy temple of God,
dwelling place of the Most High,
we adore you.
"A psalm is the blessing of the people, the praise of God, the commendation of the multitude, the applause of all, the speech of every man, the voice of the Church, the sonorous profession of faith, devotion full of authority, the joy of liberty, the noise of good cheer, and the echo of gladness. It softens anger, it gives release from anxiety, it alleviates sorrow; it is protection at night, instruction by day, a shield in time of fear, a feast of holiness, the image of tranquility, a pledge of peace and harmony."
One of my students decided to practice a new spiritual discipline: Rather than gazing down at his shoes, he would look up when walking the university halls and greet others walking by. He said this was difficult for him, even at a Christian institution, as he was shy and awkward. But this discipline, he discerned, would shape him to be more like Christ and maybe touch the heart of someone in need of friendly recognition. It’s a small thing, but our spirits are shaped by small things repeated over long periods of time, and he hoped this practice would shape his character for good.
I’m old enough to remember worship without projection or large displays. Oh, there were times when a really progressive pastor would lug a clunky overhead projector upfront and supplement his message with rough words or pictures drawn on clear sheets of plastic called “transparencies.” The bulbs were hot, and the fans keeping them cool were loud. And then there was the problem of the transparencies sliding off the glass at precisely the wrong time.
Growing up in the countryside five miles outside Ada, Michigan, Roman Catholics were largely unknown to me. When I was about ten, my parents sold off a small chunk of the farmland they had bought some years before, and the Smith family built a house half a mile up the road from us. They went to St. Robert Catholic Church.
Incorporating evolving technology has been an ongoing theme in Christian worship for two thousand years. From the use of scrolls to the invention of the printing press, from the use of lanterns to the invention of electricity, and from use of a pipe organ to the invention of electric guitars, worshipers have always been adopting new technology in worship.
Fasting is a practice that some people incorporate into their spiritual lives on a regular basis—even weekly. Scot McKnight defines fasting as “a whole-body response to a grievous sacred moment” (Fasting: The Ancient Practices, Thomas Nelson, 2009). But why should we fast? McKnight’s definition helps us understand why: to respond to something that is spiritual enough, and grievous enough, to merit such an action.
Worship from the Heart to the Heavens” has been a frequent and fertile theme over the many years that I have planned and led worship services with a focus on congregational song, both in North America and beyond. This theme is a testimony that we’re never alone when we worship God. We always worship in community as part of the body of Christ, not only when we are in a congregation with others, but also by ourselves, in our “closets.” That is a comforting truth!
Approximately 2,016 years ago, God couldn’t walk. He had to be carried everywhere, like most babies.
2,015 years ago, God took some staggering first steps, fell, and scraped his knee. He cried, and his mother wiped away his tears and told him to try again. Or maybe he still crawled everywhere. Some toddlers are late bloomers.
2,010 years ago, God ran across the street in a small town with the other kids, perhaps playing a version of soccer. He might not have been very good at it.
Holy Week at Covenant Life Church, a Christian Reformed church in Grand Haven, Michigan, has taken on a very distinct shape over the last twelve years. Prior to celebrating the glory of the resurrection, we create space to dwell with Christ by way of an immersive Stations of the Cross experience. The Stations of the Cross have a long, storied history within the Christian faith. For us, our goal is to create an interactive, meditative, and multi-sensory journey with Jesus, walking with him in the final hours of his life, leading up to his death and resurrection.
Freedom from Fear” is a Lenten series created by Pella Reformed Church in Adams, Nebraska. Throughout the gospels Jesus tells his followers or those around him, “Do not be afraid.” Yet today fear plays an enormous part in our lives. We spent the season of Lent looking at the times where Jesus says, “Do not be afraid” and discovering what fears Jesus is releasing us from today.
A song you may choose to use for the whole series is “Don’t Be Afraid” LUYH 429 by John L. Bell of the Iona Community
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