Blog

  • Learning What Tenderness and Hope in Response to Jesus Feels Like

    One the most tender moments in the entire Bible is Simeon's joy at the presentation of Jesus (Luke 2:29-32). His serene and hopeful song is a model response to the revelation of the Lord: 

  • CRASH. I rocked back on my heels awkwardly, hoisting a 6 foot long wooden rod parallel to the floor, while avoiding smashing into the dingy closet ceiling or falling on the wax covered, fake foliage littered floor. I balanced the rod at the perfect angle and slowly backed out of the closet. I have a serious love/hate relationship with the banner closet. Yes, it houses the church’s treasured memories- glorious displays of talent and craftsmanship, labors of love woven into the hand-stitched fabrics, artistic representation of the church’s history.

  • I said it at the Calvin Symposium a few months ago, and I’ll say it again. And nobody’s paying me to say this. It’s just true. John Witvliet is the Kevin Bacon of the worship world. It seems that every significant worship insight can be traced back, by a maximum of six degrees, to Dr. Witvliet. Instead of sweeping this reality under the rug, I’ll just go ahead and name it and claim it right at the beginning of this post: I got this idea from him.

  • We were late to the church we were visiting after we’d made a wrong turn. While my husband took the children to children’s worship, I stood in the back of the sanctuary, singing hymns along with the congregation. And when the time came to greet each other, I moved to a row, shook hands with someone on the end, and asked, “Do you mind moving over? Then my husband can easily join me in a bit.”

  • Each week we come forward. Young and old. Spiritual veterans and rookies. Adolescents walking as if propelled by jet engines or ample caffeine. Seniors teetering on the arms of their married partner or friend of 50 years. It’s the end of our worship service, and time again for weekly communion.

  • My wife and I had an interesting experience at this year’s Calvin Worship Symposium. It happened Thursday night at the Covenant Fine Arts Center. The auditorium was beautifully prepped for worship with themed hangings and well-designed lighting on and around the stage. The worship team was first rate. And the service began with an inspired playing of a Bach prelude—that very few of us actually heard because virtually no one was paying attention.

  • Someone recently introduced me to the website www.challenge.gov. It is a list of competitions set up by 80+ agencies across federal government. Its tagline is “Government Challenges, Your Solutions.” These are real problems that need creative solutions from us, citizens of this great nation. It’s an opportunity for people to make a difference on the government level not just by voting in their candidates but by stepping up, using their gifts, insights and intellect to make real change.

  • Eleanor Vander Linde loved music! She hummed through her housework, she sang in the church and community choirs and she provided music lessons for her four daughters—who all grew up loving and performing music. In a short memoir of her life Eleanor wrote, “My whole life I lived with music, music in my heart, mind and voice!” In honor of Eleanor, I’m sharing two lessons that we, who also love music, might learn from. 

  • I am a frequent lurker — and occasional participant — in an online discussion group on Facebook. It is comprised of worship pastors and other people responsible for the liturgical life of their gospel communities. We ask each other questions. Not ivory-tower abstract questions, but real-life theological/worship-leader questions.

  • Throughout church history and across denominations, God’s people have given a privileged place within worship to the reading of the Ten Commandments. In my experience, the Ten Commandments have usually been included as a Call to Confession or as a Call to Holy Living. In the first instance, our attention is drawn toward how we have fallen short of God’s expectations. Our sin is exposed. In the second, we are called to live more faithfully in response to God’s grace in Jesus Christ.

  • I live just outside Hamilton, ON (Canada), a city of half a million that boasts one professional sports franchise:  the Hamilton Tiger Cats of the Canadian Football League. This year the Cats were favored to win it all, under the leadership of their star quarterback, Zach Collaros, until a season-ending injury took him out.

    Suddenly I realized that the Cats’ chances of winning it all had deteriorated profoundl. It struck me that perhaps the quarterback is more important to a football team’s success than any other position in any other team sport. 

  • Many churches are struggling to appeal to Millennials. Generally speaking, Millennials are those who are born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s. As a Millennial, I have witnessed the church’s efforts to attract me, keep me engaged, and stay relevant to my generation. It is my goal here to speak to this struggle firsthand from my research and personal experiences.

  • Hold the Cheese

    Insights from My College Students About What Helps and Hinders Worship

    I recently taught a class on worship and theology to an insightful group of 30 undergraduate students. They came from churches all over the stylistic spectrum, from eight denominations, twelve states and provinces, and three countries. 

    As part of the course, I asked them to submit brief written reflections to these open ended questions: 

  • When an international student moves to the United States, and starts watching American football or baseball, they are often perplexed. When a North American student explains the game, they start to appreciate it. But when they hear a true fan of the game respond to a brilliant play by exclaiming “now that was amazing,” then their attention is focused in a new way. That exclamation—a testimonial, really—becomes an invitation not just to understand the game, but to fall in love with it.

  • Ah, the old Trojan horse. You think you’re welcoming something innocent and wonderful into your life, and it turns out to be evil and destructive. People talk about worship songs that way. I’m a part of several online forums, and this conversation always comes up. It goes something like this:

    Should we, with all the other churches, incorporate [X] song from [Y] church, if [Y] church’s pastor preaches heresy?

  • More Than…

    I knew it would be an emotionally heavy week. Recently, I participated in a Mental Health First Aid training offered by Mental Health Canada. In a similar way to a Red Cross first aid course, this course is designed to equip first responders with information, skills, and resources needed to identify and provide care to someone experiencing a mental health crisis. I highly recommend this course for those who are in the Canadian context and can access it.

  • Drills and Scales as Building Blocks

    Every good soccer or basketball team does drills to practice basic skills. Every good pianist or saxophonist practices scales. Drills and scales are the building blocks of success any time our bodies and minds are involved in an activity we love.

    Scales and drills shape how human nerves and muscles work together seamlessly in real time. They get us ready to respond to whatever a game or musical performance brings our way. They make doing the right thing instinctive, like second nature.

  • “People can’t worship when they’re learning.” I was working with another planner—I’ll call him Mike—on a combined worship service of our two churches. Together we were responsible for selecting songs, recruiting singers and deciding the order of worship. Mike and I shared many important traits: both of us loved Jesus, both of us were committed to the Church, both us wanted true and good worship to happen at the combined service.

  • How long O Lord, how long?
    How long will our news be filled with reports of violence?
    How long will neighbor turn against neighbor with words, and fists, and guns?
    Why are people filled with such fear and anger that they desire to kill?
    Sovereign God we cry “Lord have mercy!”
     
    Sing: Kyrie Eleison (such as Lift Up Your Hearts #637 or another appropriate refrain.)
     
    Sovereign God, we pray for comfort and healing.

  • It was so predictable that it became comical. The third Monday of the term students walked into the “Foundations of Worship” class that Karen deMol and I taught together at Dordt College with their heads hanging, eyeing us suspiciously, holding their worship reflection assignments in their hands.