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The "Excuses" of Worship

Estranged2It has always fascinated me why something as important as worship has been the arena where so many of us develop clever “excuses” to avoid worshipping as we should.

Some of us seem only interested in worshipping according to our own personal style and preferences.  This leads to cliché excuses that label worship as:  too loud, too soft, too fast, too slow, too contemporary, too traditional, too difficult, too simplistic, too esoteric, too shallow – and on and on it goes.

Others of us entrench ourselves in a theology of worship that conveniently allows us to avoid biblical expressions of worship we consider embarrassing or unspiritual (e.g. singing, shouting, kneeling, raising hands, or… responsive prayers, traditional liturgies, etc.).  We either staunchly defend holistic definitions of worship (e.g. preaching, giving, serving, painting, dancing, performing, fellowship, silence, and prayer), or we narrowly define it in musical terms (i.e. psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs).   

And finally, in a culture addicted to the rights of the “individual”, many of us stubbornly defend our right to “worship in our own way,” thus avoiding the threat of conformity, and perhaps even the accountability that worshipping in community with other believers may include.  We’ve convinced ourselves that maintaining our “to-each-his-own” defense will succeed in protecting us from worship expressions unfamiliar or uncomfortable to us.

Continue reading "The "Excuses" of Worship" »

The Question of Dignity

David_whirls_with_all_his_might_before_t Is God impressed with our dignity?  This is the question that's been haunting me since yesterday.  In Jesus' parable of the lost son (Luke 15.11-32), we read that when the son came to his senses and returned home, that "while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him" (v.20). Such running was considered undignified and shameful. But love seemed to guide this father more than his dignity. 

Pentecost3That thought triggered others from both Testaments: David dancing with all his might before the ark of the covenant (2 Samuel 6), and the new believers -- thought to be drunk -- on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2.1-16ff).

As my own journey has led me closer to orthodoxy, I'm wondering: where does dignity fit in?  In my charismatic past, I often noticed how a person's sense of "dignity" (mixed with pride?) would keep them from being open with God -- in honesty, in expressions of worship -- and with one another. But maybe it's not the dignity, per se, that's the problem, but rather our "holding on to it" that trips us up.

In each of the the passages I've mentioned, there seems to be an element of spontanaeity.  Is it then our willingness to be spontaneous, when we feel moved, that breaks us free from our dignity?  Or is there (as I suspect), much more going on?

I welcome your thoughts.

Vintage Paradoxology

Desertpastorcross_1I'm debuting a new "TypeList" today -- typepad jargon for the content that fills the side collumns of my blog.

Vintage Paradoxology (located on the left collumn, just below "Recent Comments"), features links to my posts which have the greatest number of comments and/or "hits".  Hopefully, this will expose some of my newer readers to classic posts from the past.

Baby Showers Are Evil

Baby_shower_3For many years, my wife and I have been puzzled by the fact that whenever our church throws a baby shower for someone, they usually end up leaving the church shortly thereafter!

We bend over backwards, we spend the big bucks, we make sure everyone's invited, but in the end... they leave.

Either baby showers are evil, or else we've got to start admitting to ourselves that we throw really sucky showers!  :O

Seriously though, I know that the scriptures urge us to give, expecting nothing in return (e.g. Luke 6:35) -- and that's fine.   But what's the deal with baby showers?  People stay when we throw them a birthday, graduation, or confirmation party. 

Several years ago, it felt as though a particular "expecting" couple started attending just so they could have a larger church throw them a shower.  As soon as the baby was born, they skidaddled.

Maybe I should teach more on having a spirit of gratitude, or on community, or on commitment, or on forgiveness (ouch!).  Maybe I should have people sign a "Baby Shower Contract," agreeing to stay connected with our community of faith for a mimimum of 12 months after their shower is held. Maybe I should just shut up and consider all this an opportunity to joyfully suffer for Christ. Maybe I should just be thankful for the few months these dear ones are a part of our congregation.

Or...maybe I should view baby showers as missional endeavors, begin soliciting contributions for them and then start offering them to the people in our city.

Am I totally crazy, or have you ever wondered about stuff like this? I'd really like to know.

Maybe baby showers are evil.  But Jesus would probably go them anyway.

Hmmm. That's got me thinking...  WWJBTBS? (What Would Jesus Bring To a Baby Shower?)

The Cup, the Loaf, and a Bowl of Chili

Chili1After recently teaching about the centrality of the fellowship meal within the first century Church, I eagerly waited for the next time our congregation would sit down to eat together in order to blend in a time of Holy Communion.  That time came yesterday, as we ate together at the conclusion of our annual chili and soup cookoff.

After everyone had gone through the food lines and were well under way eating their meal -- we paused, remembered Christ's words of institution, and then began to share from a common cup and loaf. It was beautiful.

In my own spiritual upbringing, Communion had become a purely individualistic exercise -- a reality I've intentionally worked to change. Even though I much prefer using a common loaf to a tray of individual wafers, partaking together around tables while we all shared a meal seemed to better reinforce the corporate reality of Christ's body and our connection to the Eucharisic meal.

Loaf_and_cupI admit, I was a bit worried, hoping that no one would be offended by our partaking of Christ's body and blood in-between spoonfuls of chili. But so far, I've only heard positive comments. Observing communion in this way seems to fit easily with our "open table" stance, but I recognize that this approach  (i.e. partaking as part of a common meal) might not work well in communities of faith which require prior profession of faith and/or membership in order to receive the elements.

I'd be interested in hearing from any of you who have observed Holy Communion in a similar way, or if you have any thoughts or comments to share. 

"I'd Like the Blessing, Please, but Not the Mark"

Ash_wedOnce, while administering the imposition of ashes during an Ash Wednesday service, a person in line stepped up and said to me: "I'd like the blessing, please, but not the mark."

What got me thinking about this, has been a rise in instances where people attending my congregation have sought the perceived benefits of spiritual ordinances without their natural associations -- like wanting to partake of the Sunday Eucharist but not along with the rest of the body, or wanting to be baptized without professing repentance or faith in Christ, or... wanting the words of consecration and blessing spoken over them without the accompanying ash cross.

What does this all mean? And how should I respond to these dear ones as their pastor?

The Esoteric: Friend or Foe?

Esoterices-o-ter-ic, adj. 1. Intended for or understood only by a particular group.  2. a. Known by a restricted number. b. Confined to a small group.

Years ago, the senior pastor of the church I was leading worship for would periodically have me remove certain songs from our list, citing they were too esoteric.

To this day, I still struggle with this.  I understand the limitations and hazards of so-called Christianeese and how it alienates people, and yet I've also seen the dangers of overly secularizing our worship experience, where we end up losing a sense of the holy, the numinous, the mysterious, the supernatural.

And so I put it to you: if something is considered esoteric, should it be rejected?  Or should such things be simply explained and then cherished, or neither, or both, and why?