Archive for February 2015


February 23, 2015

worship-singers This post is the first of two intended to address physical expression during worship singing. The point of dividing into two articles was for the first to speak to the individual worshiper’s physical response and involvement, and for the follow up to be concerned with the church body’s corporate expression. Although I will address worship singing in this divided manner (individual vs. corporate), the fact is that they inseparably affect one another. With that intertwining in mind, let’s look at the physical involvement of the individual in worship, and extend that consideration to worship singing in particular. Let’s start with some obvious facts.

  1. We are physical beings. God did not create us as disembodied vapor. In fact, our physical presence is how we recognize one another in the first place. If you ask me if I know a certain person, I will think of physical characteristics such as what the person looks like as I remember them. If this is someone I have known fairly well I may recall how they walk, what their voice sounds like when they talk, how they laugh, how they interact with others, including me. I might recall their expressions of hospitality, warmth, or lack of these characteristics. Even personality traits, sense of humor, and sensitivity are assessed based on our perceptions attained through observation of a person’s physical actions in situations. We are physical beings.
  1. Christianity is a holistic reality. God created us “a living soul” (Genesis 2:7) when He breathed life’s breath into humanity. Although the false gnostic idea of a separate body and soul are far too often fostered in our compartmentalized culture, and sadly even in our churches, to be Christian involves our whole being. After all, the first commandment is this, And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength (Mark 12:30) God has given us bodies to fulfill His commands and mission. We are built to worship. In His glorious grace and wisdom God has given us a capacity to know Him and respond to Him. “Through scientific research we are gaining fuller understanding of how our bodies work, and this research is telling a fascinating story: our body’s design enables us to commune with God and to fellowship more closely with others.”[1]
  1. Scripture is filled with examples and instructions of physical expressions in response to God. In a blog post on this same theme, author/worship leader/songwriter, Bob Kauflin notes some of these as including clapping, singing, bowing, kneeling, lifting hands, shouting, playing instruments, dancing, and standing ( 47:1Eph. 5:19Ps. 95:6;Ps. 134:2Ps. 33:1Rev. 15:2Ps. 149:3Ps. 22:23). One of the first things I remember Robert Webber saying in an opening convocation at the Robert E Webber Institute for Worship Studies was to underscore that there is no one word in scripture translated “worship.” Rather there are several, and many have to do with physical actions and postures that all work together giving us some understanding of what it is to engage with God in worship.
  1. Engaging in physical expression not only further forms our worship expression (and in the process influences other worshipers), but is one way our worship forms us. As an example, lifting our hands in praise, also places us in a posture of submission and surrender. The same is true of kneeling to pray. While we may kneel to express our need, we are at once shaped by the posture of humility, something the Bible teaches us is required of us (Micah 6:8).
  1. Expressions of worship in private may include physical expressions different than public or corporate worship expressions. Throwing myself in the floor at church would likely scare the children, and panic my own family. The Spirit’s revelation of truth through God’s Word, or assurance in private revelation, however, may call for such a response.

Why consider this in conjunction with singing our worship?

  • Physical engagement may embody the text of what you are singing. Whether it is a new worship song that has recently become part of your expression, or a traditional hymn that has stood the test of time, engaging our bodies in the expression of worship that we are already expressing with our lips and voices can further form us in the spiritual dynamic involved.
  • Sometimes the lyrics we sing imply we are “lifting holy hands,” or “bowing before your throne” or “kneeling in your presence” and thus it seems appropriate to question if we should act on the lyrics we profess in real time.
  • Seems to me that in public settings it is during the time of singing in worship that we experience the quandary of an open expressiveness by some, and/or a feeling of restriction or discomfort by others. Conscientious leaders can help us know what is best in corporate worship (More on this next week).
  • Singing IS a physical act! It involves the whole person, mind, body, spirit. Read Methodist evangelist, John Wesley’s words in his Preamble to a 1761 Hymnal in his “Directions for Singing” instruction #4:
    • Sing lustily, and with a good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength. Be no more afraid of your voice now, nor more ashamed of it being heard, than when you sing the songs of the world. (John Wesley – Rules for Singing)

[1] Rob Moll, What the Body Knows About God (InterVarsityPress 2014) pg 16



February 17, 2015

Now-is-the-Time-to-Worship-300 Time is a big deal. Try as we might to control it, we have no power over the pace of passing time. We cannot save it, or pause it. We cannot speed it up, or skip over it. We are just in it. Some of us talk about managing our time, but that is a misnomer. We cannot manage the time, but only our activity in it. That’s just the way it is. In a culture where “time is money,” year-round schools and downsized offices have added pressure to our jam-packed calendars and workdays. Add to that an insane obsession with sports for kids at younger and younger ages, and it is little wonder that worship service attendance in so many churches has declined. Rather than addressing the myriad of conflicts in lifestyles, and especially those directly related to conflicts with Sunday worship, I want to move to consideration of a more fundamental understanding of time as it relates to Christian worship, and pray you might join me in seeing the Christian spirituality of observing time in a distinct manner.

First, I must confess. I struggle with managing my activities within the time the Lord has given me. I serve among pastors and worship ministry leaders most of whom likewise seem to struggle with time. They, as I, face most of the same pressures as the people in the churches we serve. We have families with needs. We feel pressure to perform, while we also serve on downsized staffs, but with higher expectations. We even have an exacerbated struggle since many of those we would call upon for help are some of those who themselves struggle to continue faithful involvement due to the same pressures. Obviously, skipping worship attendance is not an option for the worship ministry leaders. In addition the pressure of declining attendance compounds the pressure. Rather than coming up with yet another set of service times, more varieties of worship music styles, or other entrepreneurial concoctions, could we use a moment to consider our spiritual condition, and the heart of the matter of time? Could I take us back to some elementary thinking?

The Bible makes distinction between two kinds of time. Kairos has to do with episodes or periods when God moves in a particular action that one author characterizes as “a new dimension in reality.”[1] As we look back upon the actions of God through history we see a picture that forms what we know as the Gospel.  Chronos, on the other hand, is where we get our term “chronology,” and refers simply to the time on the calendar or clock. You might say the latter gives the palate on which the former is painted. The Incarnational truth is that God has stepped into time in the person of Jesus. What we see in scripture prior to His birth points to Him. His life, death, resurrection, and ascension form the center of the Gospel. Worship engages us in embracing time through anamnesis or remembering, and prolepsis or looking to the not yet. As we live the time (chromos) that God gives us there are events (kairos) when God acts in ways that transform us. Both kinds of time are critical to worship.

We can be ever confident that God is always “on time” in His actions.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. (Romans 5:6)

Given an unrelenting confidence in God’s power to act when He wills, and as He deems best, we surely must see our part as response to His invitation to come and worship. And speaking of time, the Lord’s Day remains foundational to our practice of Body (the Church) worship. Faithfulness in this regard means a designated time on this special (Resurrection) day of the week. By doing so, we set a pattern within our spiritual system, personally and corporately, whereby we practice those disciplines of Christian worship: gathered fellowship, prayer, singing, hearing, responding, being sent. Hebrews teaches us that faithful gathering is important to our well being, and even speaks to a bit of the how and why.

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24-25)

We worship, offering moments given us to reflect on time past, to enrich time present, and anticipate the forever feast to come. The gathering sets the trajectory for our daily worship, so that worship is a continuum, never ceasing.

Yet a time is coming and now has come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and in truth for they are the worshipers the Father seeks. (John 4:23NIV)

The Christian Calendar gives an even broader opportunity to pattern our worshiping lives centered in Jesus. Mentor, friend, and author, Dr Constance Cherry presents some of the benefits in observing the Christian Year:

  • The Christian Year reveals the larger narrative (story of God).
  • The Christian year presents the systematic truth of Christ (a systematic theology is unveiled).
  • The Christian year is innately Christocentric (the work of Jesus Christ is explained and celebrated).
  • The Christian year views time as sacred (all of time is holy, dispelling the dichotomy of secular vs. sacred time).[2]

This week begins the season of Lent with Ash Wednesday. Christians around the world will begin the 40 day (Sundays are excluded) path to Pascha (Easter) Sunday. I would encourage you to join this journey that encompasses personal and corporate worship. This is a time of prayer, fasting, self-examination, and remembrance of the covenant that binds and bonds us. Even as we see Christians being beheaded for their faith while calling out the Name of our Lord, let us pray for courage and renewal.

Below you will find a great new hymn for this season that I highly recommend:

[1] James F. White, Introduction to Christian Worship (Abingdon Press, 1990) 54.

[2] Constance Cherry, The Worship Architect: A Blueprint for Designing Culturally Relevant and biblically Faithful Services (Baker Academic, 2010) 211.

Hope for True Worship Rooted in the Living God

February 8, 2015


The following excerpt is from my book, Tune My Heart to Sing Thy Grace: Worship Renewal through Congregational Singing.

Most any study of worship practice or theology posits a working definition. A difficulty in defining Christian worship is that no one word for worship is translated from Hebrew, or Greek to English. Rather, there are gestures, words, attitudes, and actions that reflect what we have come to call “worship” that are translated “worship.” Even worse, writers who simply use the English word, “worship,” tracing its etymology from the Old English weorthscipe, with its connotation of “ascribing worth,” leave us open to the subtle but destructive practice of assuming that we stand in a position to determine God’s worth.[1] This presumption in itself is anthropocentric. (7)

At issue, here is the unitarian sense that God is static. The English word struggles to capture the multiplied attributes of God Himself and the active responses to His revelation.  Part of the astounding beauty of worship is that as we engage in the rhythmic dance of worship, revelation and response, we live in the tensions of various attributes of God. Yes, He is, of course, the same yesterday, today, and forever. Yet He is also the living God, from Whom we see new mercies morning by morning. Yes, He is the one true God, and yet He is also God in three persons, Blessed Trinity, in which there is community. As we sing worship and encounter God’s Word in Holy scripture we embrace these tensions and step into the beautiful mystery of God.

A Canadian blogger and fellow worship leading practitioner and thinker that I like to read is Stacey Gleddiesmith. Stacey confronts the problem of using the etymology of the English word as the definition for worship. She notes its stagnant character, which is far too shallow an attempt at grasping a sense of the intentions and desires of the Triune and living God.

Worth-ship is a state of being (like friend-ship). When we apply the word “worship” to God, we simply affirm that he is of worth. There is no sense of movement, of interaction, of relationship with God. There is no sense of the narrative that underlies scripture; of the call and answer that enriches our lives before God; of the patterns and forms of approach that God has set in place. It’s a definition that would easily lend itself to a deist stance: my worship of God admits to his existence and his worth, but does not really infer any interaction between us. God might have set things in motion, but he has now stepped away, and I can admire him from a distance. (

The stagnant presentation of God in worship may well be responsible for the tendency toward theistic moralism so prevalent in evangelical faith practice today. I fear that in the Sunday services of many churches from my own denomination worship has been relegated to music interested primarily in the experience of the would be worshiper, and the propositional preaching that opines positions of the Almighty, as interpreted by the one preaching. Instead of making disciples of a suffering Savior, who willingly laid down His life, we are making consumers of “good worship” as determined by personal or popular tastes in music, and agreed upon polemics likely to be expounded from our pulpits. Parishioners drop by to hear tunes they enjoy, and to pick up polemics they can post on facebook. Rather than building a faith community seeking to lose their life, die to self, and live to Christ, walking in His resurrection, we are fostering a spiritual gas stop where dropping by holds hope of feeling good, building our positional arguments, and leveraging affiliations for personal or organizational gain. And how is that working out for us? Lord, help us. We need a Savior.

But wait! There is good news! Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again! The church has always been in a state of reformation, and will be until Jesus comes back. Could we pray toward our own conviction, repentance, and response to His revelation? Leaders, let us pray fervently for return to our first love. Let us forgo production and simplify to genuine edification and convictional covenant. Instead of building props, let us build real community. Let us subject our practices to the scrutiny of the Word itself to find life in loving the Lord, our God with all our hearts, minds, souls, and strength, and loving neighbor as ourselves. Perhaps we should revisit our baptism, the symbolic mark of our identity with Christ.

The words of this great baptismal hymn penned by Adoniram Judson around 1829 come to mind:

Come, Holy Spirit, Dove divine,
On these baptismal waters shine,
And teach our hearts, in highest strain,
To praise the Lamb for sinners slain.

We love Your Name, we love Your laws,
And joyfully embrace Your cause;
We love Your cross, the shame, the pain,
O Lamb of God, for sinners slain.

We sink beneath the water’s face,
And thank You for Your saving grace;
We die to sin and seek a grave
With You, beneath the yielding wave.

And as we rise with You to live,
O let the Holy Spirit give
The sealing unction from above,
The joy of life, the fire of love.

[1] Peterson, Engaging with God, 17. Peterson is referencing W. Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament (ET, London: SCM, 1961; Philadelphia: Westminster, 1967), Vol. 1, p. 102.

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