Some years back, a biology professor gave a presentation at our church that included photos taken by the latest high-powered microscopes. The photos were amazing, but what I remember more was the awe in the professor’s voice as she described the complexities of God’s creation in the very, very small world she studied. Even though she’d taught for years, she acted as if she was seeing these splotches and patterns for the first time. Her presentation was a prayer of praise to the limitless creativity of our God.
We involve a few of our high schoolers in worship, especially those with musical gifts. What ideas do you have for engaging other young people?
A while ago a friend of mine (who is not a preacher) made a good observation. She noted that when she began attending a certain congregation, she found the pastor’s sermons to be mostly just OK. There was nothing wrong with the sermons. They were solid, fairly interesting most of the time, and very biblical.
This article first appeared in Public Justice Review and is reprinted here with permission.
September 11 fell on a Tuesday. Five days later, on Sunday, September 16, millions of American Christians, shocked, angry, and grieving, filed into church.
The music began to play. Some were invited into the defiant and militant melodies of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “God Bless America.” Some were invited into a time of mournful silence, prayer, and reflection. Others just sang the same old songs as if nothing had changed at all.
Indigenous youth are succumbing to the harsh legacy of residential schools, the forced adoptions of Indigenous children in the 1960s, and the current child welfare system. Suicide rates among First Nations youth are five to seven times higher than that of non-Indigenous youths, and rates among Inuit youth are eleven times the national average. Please pray for their lives. Pray for action and for conviction in our hearts.
Lord, hear our prayer.
When Christ went up to Heaven the Apostles stayed
Gazing at Heaven with souls and wills on fire,
Their hearts on flight along the track He made,
Winged by desire.
Their silence spake: “Lord, why not follow Thee?
Home is not home without Thy Blessed Face,
Life is not life. Remember, Lord, and see,
Look back, embrace.
“God rescues his people and calls us into a life of holiness in order that we may have a living, personal relationship with him. . . . Salvation is not merely the forgiveness of sins. God’s goal for us is that, having been rescued from the bondage of sin, we might live daily in the glory of his presence and manifest his holy character.”
—John Oswalt, introduction to Exodus in the NLT Study Bible, 2nd ed. (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2008).
This article was originally presented as the plenary address at the conference “For Such a Time as This! Worship Meets Justice and the Arts in a Turbulent Time,” held at First Christian Reformed Church in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, on October 21, 2017.
Someone is always telling a story about you. That story might include the place you work (or used to work), the organizations you volunteer for, the people in your life who are important to you, or the places you have lived. For me, that includes things like:
As we enter the season of Pentecost it is good to be reminded that the Holy Spirit came not to make a splash and then exit again, but to continue the work that Christ was doing. The Holy Spirit continues to be active in the world, and we as followers of Christ are called to join the Spirit’s work. This prayer is for those of us who are on the front lines, working in the trenches, or completing more tedious assignments for God’s glory and the advancement of his kingdom.
O Lord, our gracious God and heavenly Father,
People often wonder what difference Christ’s ascension makes. The Heidelberg Catechism, written to answer this and so many other questions of the faith, teaches us about the ascension in Q&A 49. Though written in 1563, its summary of Scripture rings as true today as it did then, regardless of our particular denominational affiliation.
The Jewish people have a practice of reading the book of Ruth during the Festival of Weeks (Exodus 34:22), which takes place fifty days after Passover and commemorates God giving the law to Moses on Mount Sinai. The Festival of Weeks (or Shavuot) is also known as Pentecost. The people of God who gathered in Jerusalem for the Pentecost recorded in Acts 2 would have heard the story of Ruth.
Growing up we always celebrated Ascension Day on Ascension Day, which meant gathering for worship on a Thursday night. Interestingly, we did little for Pentecost and never even mentioned Lent. These days Ascension Day services during the week are fairly rare, and sometimes the ascension gets little more than a passing reference the Sunday before or after even while Pentecost has gained in significance. While I applaud the increased attention Pentecost receives, I think we lose out by lessening emphasis on Ascension Day. We need both, equally.
Since I first saw pictures of Janet Echelman’s sculpture made from thirty-five miles—yes, miles—of technical fiber hanging over a park in Greensboro, North Carolina, I’ve been thinking of ways to capture some of the same airy, flame-like look for a Pentecost visual for worship.
What if we strung netting of some sort—dyed or left natural—from floor to ceiling? But to keep it from looking like a spiderweb, it needs an anchor of some sort—something to give it focus and a purpose.
While I was planning our Trinity Sunday worship service, I was inspired by my study of 2 Corinthians 13:11–13. In verse 11, the word that is often translated “be perfected” or “put things in order” is the same word used in the gospels to describe the mending of fishing nets. In this prayer, the joys and concerns of the congregation are lifted up to the triune God, who is the mender of our nets and our lives. This idea became a theme for this prayer.
When I began to write this article, it had been only a few days since philosopher Alvin Plantinga formally received the 2017 Templeton Prize at a ceremony in Chicago. Through his teaching at Calvin College and then at the University of Notre Dame—and through a bevy of influential articles and books—Plantinga revived serious philosophical engagement with theological and religious topics.
My church had been working through the Church Renewal Lab for almost a year. The Church Renewal Lab is all about encouraging missional congregations who “transform lives and communities for Christ.” Its theme song has been “Build Your Kingdom Here” by Rend Collective. So we decided to create a service of song and Scripture focused on the lordship of Christ, his kingdom, and his power to transform our community. We also wanted to recognize our own role in bringing the kingdom of God to our neighbors.
These two services are based on the full texts of the letters of Ephesians and James, providing worshipers an opportunity to hear, dwell in, and reflect on God’s Word to each of us. This echoes the way the early church would have experienced these words—prayerfully listening as the letter was read aloud. In planning these services, we let the Scripture guide the order, pausing for praise, prayer, and reflection where the text suggests.
Ted Kooser—Iowan, former US poet laureate, and, like Wallace Stevens, an insurance man—famously described the reader he would choose as someone with “hair still damp at the neck / from washing it,” who takes down his book from the bookstore shelf, peruses it, and puts it back, saying, “For that kind of money, I can get / my raincoat cleaned” (“Selecting a Reader,” Flying at Night, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2005, p. 3).
When people visit our church for the first time, one of the things they often are most surprised to find is that we allow young children to stay in the main worship service. For the most part, churchgoers today are used to having children separated from the adults to attend children’s church while the adults have their own “big church.” The first thing most parents must figure out when they arrive at a church is where to drop off their children with the church’s child care workers or children’s programs.
Last fall I happened to be traveling to Dallas, arriving early Sunday morning. My travel companions and I were encouraged to attend a local Anglican church, where we were blessed by the preached Word and the fellowship of the table. The folk-style music that accompanied the liturgy included some re-tuned traditional hymns and some newly composed, with each text thoughtfully chosen for its placement in the liturgy. The spoken words of the liturgy were profoundly fresh and opened my imagination to a broader understanding of my Christian faith and relationships with God and others. To my delight, after the service I learned that some of the songs were written by congregational members, often as a collaboration between retired priest Fr. Nelson Koscheski and millennial-aged worship leader Ryan Flanigan, founder of Liturgical Folk. Two songs sung at the service are included with this article.
“¡Buenos dias, hermana! ¿Cómo amaneció? ¡Good, morning, sister! ¿How are you today?” These are the words I hear every Sunday when I arrive at my congregation. We start the day with a short prayer meeting. We sing a hymn, read a psalm, and then voice the petitions and prayers for the day: healing for those who are ill, safe journeys for those who are traveling, jobs for those who are unemployed, and the needs of the community, both local and global.
Our church celebrates Christmas and Easter, but not the rest of the year. We are bit perplexed by the long stretch from Pentecost to Advent. Help us understand.
What should we name the season after Pentecost? We debate this every year and never quite arrive at consensus.
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