Something, somewhere, amid the lyrics and liturgies of this Advent and Christmas cycle needs to catch all of us off guard with its beauty, its clarity, or the profound simplicity of its gospel message.
A healthy normal provides repetition and predictability—allowing the meaning-making character of ritual to do its work. The exceptional service, … stretching us, reminding us of God’s ability to work in surprising as well as regular ways.
I was struck again with the importance of the Psalms, for every stage of grief can find expressions in this book. . . . I know that at some point in the future the Psalms will also give voice to our acceptance and hope. As a community, that day seems a long way off, but the Psalms are here for us now as we journey through our grief.
My school will never be the same.
By cultivating a culture that learns and tells biblical stories, we are writing them on our hearts, allowing the Spirit to use these stories in our and others’ lives.
Prayer involves alignment between the words we speak to our Father in heaven and the actions of our lives on earth.
The powerful work of the Holy Spirit in our places of worship is so incredibly gracious through and through and often times surprises us with unexpected glimpses of God’s grace to the people God loves so dearly.
At the beginning of this mythical season called a “ministry year,” those of us who are called to lead others into deeper discipleship need to re-check our bearings. . . . We need to make sure we’re looking for the right markers to gauge our effectiveness.
I’m convinced the Church’s captivating, timeless gospel song plays most memorably in the classic liturgy, offering much-loved lyrics and phrases and its own kind of choreography.
Nourishing a Love
My daughter grew up delighting in music. Already as a toddler she loved to sing and dance and twirl. But a defining moment came when we booked tickets to the musical, You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown.
“Worship the Lord with reverence, and rejoice with trembling.” (Psalm 2:11)
“…the only true and salutary joy is that which arises from resting in the fear and reverence of God.” — John Calvin, commenting on Psalm 2
Last month I had the opportunity to take a weeklong World Music Drumming course taught in part by Sowah Mensah. Sowah’s native country is Ghana, but he has spent many years in the United States teaching and performing traditional West African music and dance. I was reminded of some of the wisdom he shared from his culture when I read an article this week in Christianity Today about EDM (electronic dance music) in the church.
Each year, on the second day of class, I give a little speech to my Intro Preaching 101 students. I tell them that I know some of them do not believe that the Holy Spirit has gifted women to preach. In their reading of scripture, women are not authorized to proclaim the Word of God. But, I continue, I am persuaded — and this class will be guided — by the conviction that they’re wrong about this. Not obtuse or ill-intentioned — just wrong.
It was Wednesday, 6:30 pm, and the worship team was tuning up for rehearsal. Fifteen year old electric guitarist Thomas wandered over to the piano where I was seated and casually remarked, “I’ve got the perfect idea for your retirement. You should get a tattoo that says ‘no regerts.’” We both laughed.
Five minutes later the eight of us were ready for Marja’s opening prayer and her walk through the coming Sunday’s morning service, four teenagers and four of us older folks with many decades of worship leading experience behind us.
Tiffany. Sherman. Webster. Albion. Devil’s Punchbowl. Over the last 8 years, these and several of the other 100+ waterfalls in Hamilton, ON, have become my friends. Admittedly, I feel a bit weird describing these locations as friends, as if my social relationships now include inanimate objects. But quite honestly, I know these waterfalls better – and likely have more pictures from my time with them - than I do with 90% of the people I’m connected to via my social media accounts.
There are some ideas I can’t get out of my head, even if they might not be very good. One idea is that it could be fun to play with pots and pans in a pool. I know this is a bad idea, ridiculous, in fact, but it still floats to the surface of my psyche at times and I push it back down, like a Dutch oven sinking to the bottom of the diving area.
Other ideas are less ridiculous.
Several of them are even liturgical.
Our administrative committee recently conducted pastoral evaluations which included congregational wide surveys about the general worship life of our church. Most of you are familiar with this and have had something similar done in your own church. I admit I have a love-hate relationship with these evaluations. I love the fact that people, especially people who are usually not vocal, or the regulars standing by the piano to “chat” before I even get off the bench, have a vehicle to share their thoughts and their quiet observations about worship.
Rest is fleeting. Rest is fleeting not like a vapor or a memory, rest is fleeting like the next rung on the monkey bars—you know it, you can see it, but it seems never to be in grasp.
Rest is fleeting as we sit beside our over-weary child, up past bed time, while we respond to a facebook post, while Jimmy Fallon laughs at his own joke and we feign to find the rest that our bodies have been asking for all day. Not just asking for—banging on the door for. Rest has been begging for you to find it.
When we arrived in our current pastoral call, one of the pleasant surprises my wife and I discovered was a Manse where we could host large groups of people, with a living room that could accommodate our two grand pianos without breaking a sweat. We suspected this might lead to some joyful experiences, and last Thursday night we had our suspicions confirmed!
It’s been a good year to reflect on Reformed identity in the context of corporate worship. The 500th anniversary of the Reformation has provided ample opportunity to revisit the roots of our joint worship distinctives and practices. There is nothing more “reformed” than going back to the sources to reorient ourselves toward faithfulness in the present.
One evening 15 or so years ago, as I stepped out onto our front porch, I encountered a surprise guest, or I should say, several surprise guests. An adult opossum with a few much younger ones sat quite comfortably in a row on the 3-feet high concrete ledge that wrapped around our porch. They were down on the right side, at the opposite end of where I had come out. They stared at me and I stared at them — all of us frozen in the uncertainty of what to do next.
A True Story
The youth group had just returned from a week-long mission trip to a large, urban center. While there, they learned a rap-style worship song that beautifully embodied the soul of their week together. Still buzzing with the energy of their trip the Sunday morning after they returned home, they sang that rap-song for the congregation with lively, pre-recorded accompaniment, and then shared a couple epitomizing stories from their week.
A Practical Guide for All Ages
A Successful Experiment
A friend of mine came to my office a few weeks ago. His congregation is beginning to think about a sanctuary renovation, and he wanted to talk through some of the dynamics at play when considering liturgical furniture. He had found himself, in an initial meeting, agreeing with those who argued, for example, that a pulpit was both beautiful and indispensable. Five minutes later he found himself agreeing with those who said a pulpit was anachronistic at best and at worst an impediment to hearing the gospel.
You can’t. Just accept it. It isn’t the role of the worship leader, worship coordinator, worship pastor or solo pastor to craft worship in such a way that makes everyone happy. This is impossible. When you try to make everyone happy, you end up making nobody happy. Yet, crafting inclusive worship is the most important thing that we can do for our churches.
Three times within the last week I have heard of churches that are letting people go hired professionals as well as seasoned volunteers, because they do not fit the image the church is trying to portray. The three churches are in three different states, three different types of communities, and two of them are of the “reformed” persuasion. In each case, the church was honest. And unbiblical. Idolatrous, if I can be frank.
Two weeks ago, I played the hymns for my grandmother’s memorial service. My uncles, father, and aunt had quickly gathered to plan the service, which was held only five days after her death. I wanted to serve my family and Grandma, and thought this was a good way to honor and remember her.
But I am thankful I pushed the microphone away from the piano and asked my brother-in-law to lead the hymns. Because during the final hymn, I choked up.