Comprehensive Praise: some reflections on worship from Psalm 150

sunshine-dust-motesThe psalms are the prayerbook of the Bible, prayer-songs that were often used within the corporate and private worship of the people of Israel. They are also one of our strongest biblical resources for shaping our life of worship today within the Christian church. The entire psalter concludes with a summary psalm of worship, Psalm 150, and I would like to share some thoughts that leap out to me about worship from this psalm.

Worship is God-Centered
The beginning word of Psalm 150 is simple: Hallelujah, which means, “praise the Lord.” The theme and tone of this psalm, something which sums up the entire book of psalms, is God-directed praise. This word, hallelujah, sets our spiritual compass to true north in God. Here at the beginning of this psalm, yet at the end of the entire psalter, we remember that God is the center-point of attention for our worship and rooted anchor for our lives. An oft-repeated phrase about worship is: “its’ not about me.” Hallelujah is the personal and communal exclamation of that reality. When we conclude the final word in the psalms with an introductory word, “praise the Lord,” we are forced to remember that worship and life is not about me but about God.

The Intersection of the Mundane and the Holy
In the next verses of Psalm 150, we find location in worship within God’s sanctuary or tabernacle even as our imagination stretches up to the heavens or the firmament of the sky. The psalmist reminds us that worship simultaneously draws us near to God in a Read More »

Christ Alone: Calvin on drinking our fill from the fountain of Christ

I came across this the other night as I was reading through John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. This overflowing reflection on Christ’s person and work caps off Calvin’s theological reflections on The Apostles’ Creed.

We see that our whole salvation and all its parts are comprehended in Christ [Acts 4:12]. We should therefore take care not to derive the least portion of it from anywhere else. If we seek salvation, we are taught by the very name of Jesus that it is ‘of him’ [1 Cor. 1:30]. If we seek any other gifts of the Spirit, they will be found in his anointing. If we seek strength, it lies in his dominion; if purity, in his conception; if gentleness, it appears in his birth. For by his birth he was made like us in all respects [Heb. 2:17] that he might learn to feel our pain [cf. Heb 5:2]. If we seek redemption, it lies in his passion; if acquittal, in his condemnation; if remission of the curse, in his cross [Gal. 3:13]; if satisfaction, in his sacrifice; if purification, in his blood; if reconciliation, in his descent into hell; if mortification of the flesh, in his tomb; if newness of life, in his resurrection; if immortality, in the same; if inheritance of the Heavenly Kingdom, in his entrance into heaven; if untroubled expectation of judgment, in the power given to him to judge. In short, since rich store of every kind of good abounds in him, let us drink our fill from this fountain and from no other. Some men, not content with him alone, are borne hither and thither from one hope to another; even if they concern themselves chiefly with him, they nevertheless stray from the right way in turning some part of their thinking in another direction. Yet such distrust cannot creep in where men have once for all truly known the abundance of his blessings.

[From John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, edited by John T. McNeill (Philadelphias, PA: The Westminster Press, 1960), 527-528.]

Emanuel, Charleston, Forgiveness and the Future

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Last night I had the chance to view Emanuel, a documentary directed by Brian Ivie (The Dropbox), about the shooting on June 17, 2015, at Emanuel A. M. E. Church in Charleston, SC, in which 9 people died. I attended with one of my sons, and we participated in a talk-back after the movie to reflect and process what we had seen.

For me, the movie highlighted three things that are part of my own journey and also things I hope to continue working on:

  1. The power of forgiveness – The documentary focuses largely on the power of forgiveness in the lives of those who lost loved ones through this trauma. On the one hand, there is the power of forgiveness to release the one who inflicted wrong into the hands of God but also the power of forgiveness to release ourselves from bitterness. This is no simplistic journey, but overall I felt the film did a good job of showing how there is spiritual strength that gives us the ability to forgive, but also how everyone processes forgiveness differently and according to different timelines. As followers of Jesus who live in light of God’s forgiveness through the Cross, we know the power of forgiveness. As Célestin Musekura says: “Because of this divine act, the Christian model of forgiveness stresses the granting of unconditional forgiveness to those who cause injury, pain and suffering in this life.”
  2. The need for racial healing – At various points during the film, attention is given to the racialized history of Charleston and the United States. Charleston served as a hub for the slave trade in colonial America and South Carolina was the first state to secede from the union in what led to the Civil War.By interspersing these hard realities, we are reminded of the need for racial understanding and healing in the midst of the contemporary moment in our nation. From Ferguson to Baltimore, from Oakland to Milwaukee, we cannot ignore that slavery, “America’s original sin,” has left a legacy of racial inequality, pain, and violence that cannot be ignored. We need to take steps forward both in facing into the realities that are here, as well as cultivating both personal and institutional healing of racism.
  3. The importance of stopping racial violence before it starts – While the documentary did not directly address ways to stop racial violence before it starts, it hinted at the reality that a wayward, lonely young man found a narrative of white supremacy that filled the gap of meaning and belonging in his life. This grabbed my attention as I considered afterwards how we might work intentionally on stopping racial violence before it starts. Where are those at the fringes of society who find belonging in sickened narratives of prejudice, injustice, and violence? How do we find them and interrupt their stories with grace, love, and shalom from God? While not easy to address, it is vital that we work as a society, as the church, and as Christians to overcome both the fruits and the roots of racial violence.

For the past six years, I have worked across racial lines with other pastors on developing ways to make a difference in our city through The Milwaukee Declaration and other organizationsEmanuel reminded me that in stepping forward with this work there is great challenge and greater hope, great darkness and greater light.

Just this morning I came across an excerpt from journalist Jennifer Berry Hawes‘ recently released account of the atrocity in Charleston in her book Grace Will Lead Us Home.  There, Hawes relates how after the atrocity, Reverend Kylon Middleton, an African American pastor and husband of one of those killed, was invited to a historically white congregation to preach.

Middleton had grown up in this city, a divided one, and knew well the significance of a black pastor in a white pulpit. He approached with a ready step. When he got there, he beamed. “I never imagined in a million years coming to Second Presbyterian Church!” Sunday, he noted, remained the most segregated day of the week.

But why? They all served the same Christian God, the same one who’d brought them all together here tonight.

“Faith becomes the equalizer!”

In many ways, this was the most important change in race relations to come from the shooting. Friendships and familiarity had been born, especially within the Holy City’s largely segregated churches.

May God give us grace to step forward with such grace before more violence happens and before wounds overflow into riots, that we might meet at the foot of the Cross where healing, humility, understanding, and forgiveness can be found.

 


 

Emanuel is in theaters for a limited time. If you want to see it, there are still showings for Wednesday, June 19.

A Crash Course in the Gospel (Ephesians 2:1-10)

Ephesians

One of my favorite books of the Bible is the Psalms. Through the Psalms I have learned how to pray. One of my other favorites is the Gospel of John. John’s telling of Jesus’ story has helped me connect my spiritual longings with the revelation of God in Jesus Christ so powerfully. Right after the Psalms and John comes Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Here, the basic contours of right thinking about God and right living with God come together in such a short space that every sentence strikes with power.

This past weekend at Eastbrook Church, as I continued with our series “Ephesians: A Crash Course in Basic Christianity,” I had the privilege of addressing one of my favorite Scriptural texts in this favorite book of mine. I turned to Ephesians 2:1-10 for “A Crash Course in the Gospel.”

You can watch my message from this past weekend and follow along with the message outline below. You can also engage with the entire series here or download the Eastbrook mobile app for even more opportunities for involvement.

Read More »

The Weekend Wanderer: 15 June 2019

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.

nyt - sbc annual convention“Southern Baptist Convention Vows to Address Sex Abuse in Its Churches” – A lot of attention has been given this past week to the Southern Baptist Church, the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, as they grapple at their annual convention with the appropriate response to the sex abuse scandal within some churches. The New York Times: “Thousands of pastors voted late Tuesday afternoon to address the problem in a concerted way for the first time, enacting two new measures they say are a first step to reform. Outside the arena where they were gathered, victims and their families protested what they considered an inadequate response.” You can read more at Christianity Today with Kate Shellnutt’s “Southern Baptists Vote to Name Abuse as Grounds for Expelling Churches” or at The Atlantic with Jonathan Merrit’s “Southern Baptists’ Midlife Crisis.” It is also worth taking a look at the recent attention in The New York Times given to negligence in dealing with sexual abuse claims at The Village Church, a multisite Southern Baptist megachurch in Dallas, where Matt Chandler serves as pastor.

 

84323“Questions Skeptics Pose” – Here is Ravi Zacharias outlining and responding to what he says are the nine toughest asked by nonbelievers. “What questions are they asking? Here are the ones I have been asked most often. By developing a clear response to each, we can increase our ability to talk with those who are not Christians. It is important to note that while these are the attacking questions, as the conversation goes on, the questions become kinder and more personal, till one can focus on the Cross and present the gospel in its simplicity and beauty. This has happened in every venue in which I have spoken.”

 

130912030048-02-birmingham-church-bombing-horizontal-large-gallery“To Shape A New World: William Seymour and Black Faith in the Drama of Civil Rights” – Over at The Witness, Dante Stewart offers this helpful two-part historical look at how the Azusa Street revival and William Seymour relates to the civil rights movement and the shaping of of black theology. “Seymour’s impact cannot be understated. Fueled by this Resurrection Power, he indeed embodied what would be Black engagement during Civil Rights: participating with the Spirit in shaping a new world by challenging racist attitudes and social structures, spiritual renewal as foundational to social change, and participating in the Spirit’s work in the creation of the Beloved Community.”

 

20190610T1011-27353-CNS-SYRIAC-SEMAAN-THRIVE_800-675x450“New Syriac Catholic bishop hopes Christianity will thrive again in Iraq” – This news from Iraq, which has been the source of much reporting as an example of the decline of Christianity due to religious violence. “Syriac Catholic Auxiliary Bishop Nizar Semaan begins his new mission in Iraq with hope ‘that Christianity will flourish again’ in his homeland. Semaan chose the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Qaraqosh, Iraq, his birthplace, as the site of his episcopal ordination June 7. Still scarred from the Islamic State group and not yet fully restored, the church, Semaan said, is ‘a symbol of what happened to our cities and villages in 2014 until the liberation (in 2017) from ISIS.'”

 

US-REALESTATE-CONSTRUCTION“Are McMansions Making People Any Happier?” – Not necessarily a surprise, since we know that the human heart struggles with contentment, but still worth reading in The Atlantic: “American homes are a lot bigger than they used to be. In 1973, when the Census Bureau started tracking home sizes, the median size of a newly built house was just over 1,500 square feet; that figure reached nearly 2,500 square feet in 2015. This rise, combined with a drop in the average number of people per household, has translated to a whole lot more room for homeowners and their families: By one estimate, each newly built house had an average of 507 square feet per resident in 1973, and nearly twice that—971 square feet—four decades later. But according to a recent paper, Americans aren’t getting any happier with their ever bigger homes.”

 

060519jenkinsbrompton“Decline and revival in the Church of England”Philip Jenkins here in The Christian Century on the Church of England, with mention of Holy Trinity Brompton, where I worshipped last summer for a couple of weekends. Jenkins’ reflections offer some interesting thoughts on how this secular age impacts the church and what it might mean for the rise of religious nones, even in the US. “British media regularly re­port the latest surveys of religious faith and activity in that country, and rare is the news that is not deeply depressing. So rapid has been the process of secularization that it hardly seems far-fetched to imagine a near future in which Christian faith in the country would be confined to recent immigrants….The Church of England has long been divided between high and low church factions, between Anglo-Catholic ritualists and evangelicals. During the 1960s, a new force appeared on the scene in the form of a charismatic revival. Over the following decades, that charismatic impulse rose and fell in influence, but it received new infusions of support from the global church repeatedly. At different times, those overseas influences derived from transatlantic revivals, both in the US and in Latin America, but also from new immigrant populations from Africa and the Caribbean. These new influences reshaped many urban parishes, some of which became what an American would easily recognize as evangelical-charismatic megachurches.”

 

Artisanal internet“The Soothing Promise of Our Own Artisanal Internet” – Nitasha Tiku at Wired: “To put our toxic relationship with Big Tech into perspective, critics have compared social media to a lot of bad things. TobaccoCrystal methPollutionCars before seat beltsChemicals before Superfund sites. But the most enduring metaphor is junk food: convenient but empty; engineered to be addictive; makes humans unhealthy and corporations rich. At first, consumers were told to change their diet and #DeleteFacebook to avoid the side effects. But now, two years into the tech backlash, we know that cutting the tech giants out of our lives is impossible. So among some early adopters, the posture is shifting from revolt to retreat.”

 

false-memory“Speak, Memory” – “Julia Shaw’s book The Memory Illusion is a breakthrough in the jurisprudence of memory: the main question posed is not whether our memory is wrong on any given occasion but how wrong. It is thus essential reading for police, lawyers, judges, juries, insurance assessors, journalists … and anyone else who wants to understand why everybody else in the family “remembers” details of your family’s past differently from you. Her book discloses what modern brain science shows about how human memory functions, and where and how it is fallible. The title chosen for the German-language translation of her book—The Treacherous Memory—perhaps sums it all up best.”

Music: Buena Vista Social Club, “La Engañadora,” from Buena Vista Social Club at Carnegie Hall (Live).

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]