Saturday, February 27, 2010

Sermon texts for March 2010

March 7 Genesis 3:8-24 -- Deliver us from evil... (worship theme: redemption)
March 14 Genesis 4:1-16 -- A brother’s keeper (theme: accountability)
March 21 Genesis 4:17-26 -- Civilization as we know it... (theme: cultural redemption)
March 28 Genesis 5 -- The curse (theme: death)

Friday, February 26, 2010

Worship 5: Setting our priorities according to Scripture

As we've studied the first couple of chapters of Genesis in these last weeks, I was reminded of a stark comparison: God devotes two chapters of His Word describing how the entire universe was created. Later, in the book of Exodus, He devotes 12 chapters of His Word to describing how the Tabernacle (basically the house of worship for the desert-wandering Israelites) is to be built.

If God views these two in that proportion, which do you think should be more important to us: our devotion to apologetics about why Creationism is superior to evolutionism? Or our devotion to becoming better worshipers?

I'm afraid that so many believers take for granted their abilities and skills as worshipers, and believe that their time is best spent learning how to argue others into belief-- when, in fact, I think both Scripture and history is clear that, when Christians are wholly devoted to learning how to worship and how to live their lives as worshipers, those around them are inevitably drawn into curiosity, even longing, about what those Christians have that they don't.

When the Westminster Shorter Catechism teaches us that the chief end of man is "to glorify God and enjoy Him forever" I don't think we should neglect evangelism or even apologetics as an aspect of "glorifying God" but neither do I think we should place them as higher in priority than our duty to learn how to better worship Him. I've met many Christians who could effectively defend their beliefs, theology, and/or worldview but whose manner seldom suggested that they knew anything of worship other than self-worship. On the other hand, I've never met a Christian who had devoted himself/herself to becoming an ardent worshiper whose manner didn't disarm, and therefore their "defense" or answers for the reason for the hope that they have, however poorly- or well-developed, weren't more acceptable by those asking.

That's the sort of worshiper I want to be.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Bits and Tidbits, February 2010

  • How the Letterman-Leno-Oprah Super Bowl ad came together-- if you saw this ad, you probably thought two things: first, that's the funniest ad so far tonight; and second, how in the world did Letterman convince the others to do it? This little piece tells the story.
  • Five iPhone Apps for Caregivers-- I have to say, this whole iPhone apps thing just keeps getting better. The iPhone (and soon the iPad) is a great tool for mobile information management and retrieval.
  • Top 10 "Star Trek" Technologies that Actually Came True-- fun stuff. There have been a lot of news stories in the past few years about technologies that Trek inspired; this is just a summary of a few.
  • Olympics FAQ-- does curling require skill? What's the difference between an axel and a salchow? Why is the Whistler luge track so fast? These and more, answered by the Explainer at Slate magazine.
  • 17 Best Lego Creations Ever-- at least, according to the Huffington Post. These are, admittedly, pretty amazing.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Re-thinking eBooks and publishing

There has been a ton of "buzz" in the past couple of years about the coming changes in book publishing and in the print-publishing industry in general.

eBook readers are being touted as the next step in publishing technology. Sony has been marketing
their eBook reader for years; Amazon jumped into that market a couple of years ago with the Kindle, which now also has a larger edition (presumably for newspaper and magazine consumption-- Sony has one too). Barnes & Noble dipped their toe in last fall, with the Nook. Now Apple has announced that the soon-coming iPad will have an eBook reader and a store, similar to iTunes and iPod.

In fact, that is the analogy that is so frequently tossed around:
eventually, eBook readers will do for books what the iPod did for music.

I'm not buying that-- at least not outright. Here's why:
the content publishers aren't ready. (Most of them, anyway.)

If the iPod had come out in the 80s, it would have sunk like lead. Why? Because there would be no easy way to get content from a cassette tape or vinyl record (both analog) into the iPod (a digital platform). There would not have been a straightforward path to converting existing libraries of music into the format(s) needed for the iPod (or any other MP3 player). By the end of the 90s, though, most people had shifted from tapes and vinyl to CDs, and had even re-purchased much of their libraries in the new format.*

Sure, Apple did a great job of promoting the iTunes music store as the one-stop solution for "filling your iPod" with digital music, and they (in cooperation with the recording industry) certainly stemmed the tide of online music piracy with iTunes. They also single-handedly changed the way we think about music-media consumption, from thinking in terms of whole albums/tapes/CDs to thinking in terms of single tracks.

But Apple's iTunes music store wasn't the thing that sold the iPod-- it was the fact that anyone could take their existing libraries of CDs and "rip" them into their iTunes library, thereby giving them a freedom for listening to the music
they already owned on their iPods.

This was true for me with music. I had a library of almost 1000 CDs, and all of them are now boxed and stored in my attic; everything is ripped into iTunes, and thus distributed to my various iPods, iPhone, Apple TV, etc.-- a whole new music eco-system. I haven't bought an actual CD in probably five years, and have purchased hundreds of dollars' worth of media through the iTunes store-- yet by far the larger part of my library still is made up of content I owned prior to my first iPod.

This factor is the missing piece in the eBook puzzle. Book readers already own books! And we want/need some way to ensure that we will continue to have access to some or most of that content in the new eco-system, if we commit to it. Just as the music industry had modified their published content enough to allow (technologically, at least) the adaptation of other eco-systems beyond the traditional home or car stereo, book publishers must modify their content enough to make it more technologically adaptable.

I look at Thomas Nelson's "NelsonFree" program as a prime example of this. With this program, if you purchase a book (that is enrolled in the NelsonFree program, that is) in one format, then you automatically have access to others. For example, if you buy the print copy, you can also download the audio and eBook copies for no extra costs. (
Check out Thomas Nelson CEO Michael Hyatt's blog post about this program for more.)

This-- or something very like it-- has got to be the direction that the print media industry goes if they hope to see the digital shift widely embraced. Magazines and newspapers should automatically give their subscribers total online access, perhaps while limiting access to non-subscribers (as opposed to, for example,
Consumer Reports: my mother-in-law has given me a gift subscription for years, and I find the print copy interesting-- but what I'd really love is to have access to the online content, which actually requires a separate subscription!). Book publishers should figure out a system at least similar to Thomas Nelson's program.

It's not the cost of eBook readers that's so daunting, in my view. Folks didn't mind paying hundreds for an iPod, and they wouldn't mind paying good money for an eReader-- IF ONLY the content is easily available. They don't have to give new books away, either-- but at least acknowledge the fact that I've already bought the book at least once!

*The reason they had migrated to the new format, though, wasn't simply because it was new. This is a key part of understanding the history here: the new format (Compact Discs) offered superior quality to the older formats, and that quality improvement was quantifiable-- better frequency range, crisper and clearer sound, easier to use, longer-lasting without wearing out, etc. All of these were necessary for the shift to take place; just a few of them wouldn't have won the day (witness the 8-track tape, which offered minor improvement in sound quality and greater portability than vinyl, but didn't last nearly as long). People bought CDs because they were simply better in almost every way-- and they were willing to re-purchase their entire library (or at least most of it) for that improvement.

Monday, February 22, 2010

If you're reading this, we're already gone...

Once again, we're on our way to Chicago for Abbey's cleft palate repair surgery. If I haven't taken this post down, then we're en-route right now-- perhaps even as you read this.

Our schedule this time around should go like this:
Monday, 2/22-- Ed, Marcie, and Abbey travel to Chicago; Jack, Molly, and Caroline stay in Tennessee with Ed's mom and Marcie's mom.
Tuesday, 2/23-- Abbey checks into the Shriner's Hospital of Chicago. Marcie will stay in the hospital with Abbey, while Ed stays at the Ronald McDonald House.
Wednesday, 2/24-- Abbey has surgery to repair her cleft palate.
Thursday, 2/25-- Abbey recovers from surgery; the moms left Tennessee, and folks from church take care of Jack, Molly, and Caroline until Ed's sister Ann Louise and her fiancé Dave Schmitt arrive that evening.
Friday, 2/26-- Abbey might be released, and Ed, Marcie and Abbey return to Tennessee.

After that, it's a couple of weeks of recovery (including "arm imobilizers" for poor Abbey), liquid diet, probably much discomfort, etc. In four weeks or so, Marcie will return to Chicago with Abbey for a follow-up visit (probably just a day-trip by plane).

Please be in prayer for us as we go through this. It's traumatic to think of our 1-year old daughter having surgery, as well as leaving behind our other three for most of a week. I'll do my best to post updates through the week, as I am able.

Thanks for your prayers!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Video tidbits, February 2010

Over-the-top weather forecast (HT: Matt):

Toronto Raptor eats cheerleader (HT: Jeff):

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Worship 4: The Benefit of a Consistent Liturgy

I posted before about what liturgy is; today I want to discuss why liturgy is helpful.

Liturgy helps us get comfortable in worship; it lets us break free of the form and structure, or rather, break past them, and to worship more freely and without distraction. I think of it this way: if you've ever prepared a meal in someone else's kitchen, you know how it can be hard to focus on the job. The act of cooking is hindered by the difficulty of finding your way around in the order, setup, and layout of the strange kitchen.

Worship is the same way: if the liturgy is unfamiliar, you're fumbling around looking for what's next, whether you'll need to find something that you don't know where it is, etc. You're distracted from the worship itself, because you're consumed with the form and structure of worship.

This is the case, often, when you visit a church you've never been to before; their liturgy is unfamiliar. It's also the case, sadly, in many churches that want to offer a variety and novelty in each worship service. They won't settle into a patterned worship because they fear the familiarity instead of embracing it. C.S. Lewis called this the "liturgical fidget".

Hughes Oliphant Old offers these thoughts on the value of liturgy:

“In the first place liturgical forms are a good means of teaching the essentials of the Christian faith. When familiar liturgical forms and texts are used again and again, it gives the opportunity to meditate on them and to penetrate their meaning more deeply. When there are well established procedures with which everyone is familiar, it makes it easier to concentrate on content rather than on outward form. Any athlete understands the importance of mastering form. Such simple things as breathing must be done correctly, but this is essential so that eventually they can be done spontaneously, without effort, without thinking about them. The concentration must be on other things. Forms are a means to an end, and if they are constantly changing they obscure the end rather than lead to it.”

~Hughes Oliphant Old, Worship That Is Reformed According to Scripture, Guides to the Reformed Tradition (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1984), p.162. [HT: Jeff Meyers, in The Lord's Service for pointing me to this quote.]

Liturgy is vital to worship, and we do well to recognize the benefit of it's known and familiar qualities, rather than suspecting them.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Biggest Sinner

Our family likes to watch the show "The Biggest Loser" on TV together. It's (relatively) clean and it teaches our kids about setting physiological health as a priority-- but it's a fun show.

One recurring element of the show that surprised me at first, but actually makes a lot of sense, is how much emotional, mental, and psychological change (and I would say also, spiritual change) is required in order for the contestants on the show to really lose the quantities of weight that they want to-- and to keep those pounds off. Almost every episode features at least one of the contestants working with one of the two trainers at that level. I'd be remiss if I didn't note here just how good at this aspect these trainers are, as well.

The bottom line: in order to lose the weight and get healthy, it isn't just a diet change or even a simple lifestyle change (as in, now they go to the gym on a regular basis). Those are present factors, but the real changes take place in the actual identity of the people. The don't think of themselves in the same ways. They aren't punishing themselves, or soothing themselves, or medicating themselves, by using food as a tool for those. They are truly different people once they have finished the course of the show.

(Interestingly, they have recently started going back to contestants from previous seasons to check on them, and it's fascinating to see what happens to those who DON'T really change in who they are: they eventually put much of the weight back on.)

So here's my curiosity: could a similar thing be possible for spiritual change (think, "The Biggest Sinner")? So many of the people I come in contact with need something like "The Biggest Loser" for real, substantive spiritual identity change.

I'm not thinking of a competition like that show is, but simply a "boot camp" of sorts for spiritual growth. Maybe it would involve bringing in counselors, teachers, trainers of a different nature. Maybe it would look like an extended retreat, or maybe it would be something very much like the setup on "The Biggest Loser" but for spiritual rather than (or in addition to?) physical health.

What would such a project/event/conference/center look like? What do you think?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Amendment to the Book of Church Order

At the most recent meeting of Covenant Presbytery (my home presbytery), we voted up an overture to the 2010 PCA General Assembly to amend the Book of Church Order of the PCA (or BCO). This is a very big deal, and I want to comment on why I think it is such an important move.

At the 2009 General Assembly, we voted to amend a section of the BCO with regard to marriage, to clarify a particular position on what constitutes a legal marriage. The amendment we voted on actually makes our BCO more consistent with our theological standards, the
Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms. And the substance of the amendment is good-- I don't think anyone at the assembly (or any PCA pastor or ruling elder I know period) had or would have a point of disagreement with the substance.

It is
how the amendment was accomplished that is a problem-- and that is what the Covenant Presbytery amendment addresses.

Just as the Constitution of the United States of America specifies how it may be amended, so too our BCO specifies how our constitutional standards may be amended. For BCO amendments, it requires a majority vote at one general assembly, "advice and consent" from at least
of all presbyteries, and the majority vote of a subsequent assembly. This is spelled out in BCO 26-2.

At last year's Assembly, however, the amendment was passed by a single vote. The justification for this was that the section being amended was a "non-binding" section, and that the essence of the amendment was "time-sensitive" because without it some of our members were deemed to be legally exposed. It was clear that the issue at hand was an emotionally-charged issue, and in the eyes of some it may have seemed that the very essence of our public witness to the gospel was at stake.

There was discussion on the floor about whether we had the constitutional capacity to make the amendment and whether the time-sensitive factor was as pressing as was being represented. In the end, however, we moved ahead with the amendment with a single vote (the moderator asked for a
majority vote of those present as a nod to the constitutional requirement).

In other words: we set aside our constitutional requirements for amending the BCO, mainly because of the emotional commitment to the importance of the issue at hand.

But such reasons are precisely the reason we need constitutional requirements. Without procedural checks, it becomes far too easy to change our identity on a whim. In this case we abandoned our standards over something that we all generally agree upon; what will happen, though, when such an occasion arises over an issue that we are divided about? If this precedent is allowed to stand, I fear that we may see the day coming when sweeping changes of who and what the PCA is will be made with a matter of a single vote.

Therefore, our presbytery overtured the General Assembly to amend the BCO so that the requirements for amending the BCO reads like this (the new parts are in
BCO 26-2. Amendments to
any portion of the Book of Church Order, whether constitutionally binding or not, may be made only in the following manner:
1. Approval of the proposed amendment by majority of those present and voting in the General Assembly, and its recommendation to the Presbyteries.
2. The advice and consent of two-thirds (2/3) of the Presbyteries.
3. The approval and enactment by a subsequent General Assembly by a majority of those present and voting.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Luke commentary survey

Right before Thanksgiving, I finished a sermon series wherein I preached through the Gospel of Luke. Throughout the course of that series, I used a number of commentaries and other books.

When I prepare a sermon, I turn to commentaries and other resources after I've spent good time in the text itself, and then I usually consult a couple of commentaries regularly, while referring to others less frequently. Sometimes I'll do a lot of secondary reading for a sermon, but usually that is for more in-depth research of a topic, more than straightforward exegetical study. In the average week, I'll probably make use of 2-3 commentaries; it's exceptional for me to consult more than that.

Here are the commentaries and resources on Luke and what I thought of them:
  • The NIV Application Commentary: Luke by Darrell L. Bock. I like this series of commentaries, and I like Bock's writing and approach to Luke. There is great help here for the teacher and preacher, especially those who think in terms of the "fallen-condition focus" (or FCF) that Bryan Chapell teaches so thoroughly in Christ-Centered Preaching: Bock offers a section in every passage on bridging contexts, which was continuously thought-provoking for developing my FCF. Bock's treatment of many of Jesus' teachings occasionally drifts into a very methodological approach ("do these several things to accomplish this...") which often preaches like moralism or legalism. Otherwise, I found this one to be a regular resource-- not quite my "every week" read, but I probably consulted it more weeks than not.
  • New International Biblical Commentary: Luke by Craig A. Evans. This commentary is an enigma to me, in this way: it is often more technical (referencing Greek, for example) than a typical lay-level commentary, yet it offered little in the way of the kind of in-depth help that a more deeply-engaged student might desire. Consequently, I seldom turned to it for help, because I just didn't find the time spent there worth it.
  • New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospel of Luke by Joel B. Green. This volume was one of my weekly tools; I loved Green's insight into both the text itself and the meaning, with good help from basic backgrounds and context and useful comments on original language matters. Yet every passage was treated concisely, and I never felt like he was presuming on my time. His writing style is academic, but not technical, and I found it quite readable (I occasionally read a section aloud to Marcie, and she found it so, as well). There's a lot of great help here for the preacher and the student.
  • The Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Luke by Arthur A. Just, Jr. (editor). This is an interesting concept for a commentary series, and I think that the aim is a valuable one; if you're not familiar with these, the editors scour the writings of the church fathers and extract any teaching or reference that they make to particular texts, and include them in these as a collection of excerpts. In common usage, however, I often found that the most insightful excerpts were already to be found in other good commentaries. Therefore, this was useful for the occasional reflection quote, for the most part.
  • The New International Greek Testament Commentary: The Gospel of Luke by I. Howard Marshall. I didn't consult Marshall as often as I should have-- and that's my fault, not his. This one is above the rest as a help to the original language concerns of Luke, and when I used it I found it to be incredibly helpful that way. The reason for my relative infrequency (I probably referred to this commentary 1-2 times a month, at most) is my "inability" to more deeply engage the Greek of Luke, which I attribute mostly to limited time (though the rustiness makes me less efficient).
  • Reformed Expository Commentary: Luke, vols. 1 & 2 by Philip Graham Ryken. By far, my favorite commentaries on Luke were these. They are the "total package" of exegetical insight, engagement of key original language issues, cross-context application, helpful illustration, and suggestions for preaching and teaching. These commentaries are clearly the fruit of transcribing Ryken's sermons, perhaps with a bit of retouching and additional support added in-- which only strengthens their value as a preacher's resource, because they offer so much in the way of how to preach Luke well. This set joined Green as my weekly references.
  • The Bible Speaks Today: The Message of Luke by Michael Wilcock. This series of commentaries is a great series, and I have great appreciation for Wilcock, as well. I occasionally found this useful for preaching, but less so because I was approaching the text at a slower pace than Wilcock works through it. This one, like all of the commentaries in this series, is great to put in the hands of laypeople who wish to support their reading with some additional study and thought.
  • The Expositor's Bible Commentary: Luke by Walter L. Liefeld. I owned this one already, because it was bound with D.A. Carson's phenomenal work on the gospel of Matthew. I wouldn't buy it if it were sold separately; it is much like Evans's commentary above, with not much for either layman or scholar.
  • The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament by Craig S. Keener. This is a single volume commentary for the whole New Testament, but it doesn't set out to be a comprehensive commentary on every phrase or even every verse; rather, it picks out those words, phrases, as so on that have a particular nuance due to context of history, society, politics, etc. and identify what may be helpful to understand about that background material. As a result, it is a valuable resource for quick-referencing some of the more esoteric sayings or referents.
  • Reformed Expository Commentary: The Incarnation in the Gospels by Daniel M. Doriani, Philip Graham Ryken, and Richard D. Phillips. Every Pastor should have this book, because it is so helpful with regard to teaching and preaching those texts specifically related to the incarnation. A great help in Advent and Christmas, true; but there are occasions throughout the Gospels when the incarnation is a prominent theme, and these essays are particularly aimed at guiding through these occasions. There's also a lot of help here specifically for preparing sermons during Advent and Christmas, even including some new Advent hymns.
  • Luke: Historian and Theologian by I. Howard Marshall. This is the theology companion to Marshall's textual and linguistic commentary; he exposes the reader to the comprehensive theological teaching of Luke and how it develops. Marshall demonstrates both the harmony of Luke's theology with the other gospels and the rest of the New Testament, as well as the peculiarities that set Luke apart theologically. Less useful on a text-by-text basis, this one should simply be read straight through before starting the series and then referenced throughout the preparation process.
  • Literary Studies in Luke-Acts by Richard P. Thompson and Thomas E. Phillips (editors). I have to confess that text-critical matters simply didn't enter into my sermon preparation very much at all-- and certainly not into the preaching itself. In those few times that they did, however, this book was a helpful tool: I found the essay on the sequential use of the sayings of Jesus thought-provoking when I was working through the public teachings in Luke that also appeared in Matthew. When I get to Acts later this year (after the first section of Genesis), I imagine the potential for referring to this one again will be there; I'm glad to have it on my shelf, at any rate.
  • Hard Sayings of Jesus by Frederick Fyvie Bruce. Always the scholar and commentator, Bruce here tackles many of the teachings of Jesus that we either don't understand or we find difficult to know how to apply. Some of these appear in Luke, naturally, and it was a real relief to have some guidance on how to interpret and preach those when I encountered them.
  • Exploring the New Testament World by Albert A. Bell. Background material can be extremely useful for exposition, and when the brief help found in the IVP Background Commentary was insufficient then my main next stop is Albert Bell's book. I have a handful of others, too, but I can't remember encountering a backgrounds question that Bell didn't answer sufficiently.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Beard-volution (again)

Some folks mentioned that they couldn't view the "beard-volution" video because of some settings, so I changed them. Here it is, in case you missed it the first time:

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Random technology thoughts...

  • What do you think about the iPad? It looks like a neat tool to me, and will fit in very well with a certain type of user. It won't replace a regular laptop for me, mostly because a) it won't support multitasking, which I use all the time for sermon prep, worship planning, writing, etc.; b) it won't have (at least for a good while) a number of the applications that I use all the time, especially Accordance, DevonThink, and OmniOutliner (though the Omni Group has promised a iPad version of OmniOutliner); and c) I can't hook up a second monitor to it, or my ScanSnap scanner. But It looks like a great tool, and I'd love to get one for a multitude of reasons. Maybe eventually...
  • I'm getting close to switching to Camino as my default browser. I like Safari for many reasons, and the new version (4.x) brings some neat new features-- but I haven't put most of those to use, and there are several problems with it that I have difficulty abiding (especially the general difficulty with posting comments on blogs, which just won't work for me in Safari!). Don't know Camino? Think of the underlying basis for FireFox, with a cleaner and Mac-native and Mac-like interface. It's not quite as extensible as FireFox, but that's fine for me-- I don't tend to prefer using my browser for every task and trick I can.
  • AT&T is just about to drive me nuts-- NOT for mobile service, but for the landline service at the church! (As a matter of fact, I'm completely satisfied with AT&T as a mobile provider.) The landline frequently (at least once a week) drops my phone calls, and the internet service will drop out several times a day. One of my administrative volunteers (a true servant-- thanks Stacey!) persisted on the phone with them several times and succeeded in getting a service technician to come out, but his first trip didn't fix it. Neither did the second or third trip. He came yesterday for the fourth time(!) and we'll see if the latest trip did the trick.
  • I've never posted anything to my Twitter account of any substance; in fact, my ONE "tweet" was for a bundle that I bought, the tweeting of which got me a free license for another program. Yet I have 27 followers, most of whom I don't know, and at least another 25 or so have followed me at some point (probably until they realized that I didn't have anything to say)! It's a peculiar culture that I haven't quite figured out, and I'm fairly sure I don't feel the need to bother with it at this point. I'm sure there's a context for it, but mine isn't it.
  • I'm over the hump with Facebook. What I mean is, I still love the connection aspect of it, and appreciate the capacity it has for connecting and re-connecting me with so many folks. It is an incredibly efficient way to learn what is going on with friends, see up-to-date photos, and contact someone. It's a great way to be reminded of people's birthdays and send them well-wishes. But I find the daily (hourly?) stream of notices about online games, people they think I should know, and other "news" tedious, and I'm simply using it less and less as the "always on" tool that I enjoyed of it at one point.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Happy Birthday to Marcie

Today is Marcie's birthday. I'm grateful that it is also my day off, so I get to spend it all with her!

Happy birthday, Marcie. I love you very much.

[note: I wrote and posted this in advance-- NOT on her birthday!]

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Worship 3: What is a "liturgy"?

These days many people think of the word "liturgy" and (if they know the word at all) immediately think of a "high church" or very formally-organized worship service. You will sometimes hear people refer to a church's worship style as "liturgical" which means (to them) that an order of worship was followed closely, probably that there was a fair amount of responsive portions from the congregation, maybe that the minister wore a robe, etc.

I understand that this is what many people think of when they encounter the idea of liturgy or of something being "liturgical"-- and to a certain extent, there's nothing wrong with using the term this way. But, like so many words and concepts, our world isn't using the word correctly, and that misuse keeps us from having a real understanding of what we are setting out to discuss.

"Liturgy" is not a complicated term. It simply means "public service."

When we have a liturgy in the church, it is a public service of worship. In other words, whatever you
do as a part of the worship service* you participate in, that is the liturgy. If your church uses lots of responsive readings, unison prayers, and other highly-participative elements, that's the liturgy. If your church's worship is essentially just songs and teaching, then that is the liturgy.

Which is to say, unless your church's "worship" is nothing more than a concert that you sit and passively listen to, maybe with a teaching time inserted in the middle, then your church has a liturgy! (And those churches who DO present the concert with teaching inserted as worship, I would argue, are not engaging in biblical corporate worship. That's just entertainment.)

Therefore, it's not accurate (or even possible) to speak of a "liturgical" vs. a "non-liturgical" worship style. One worship style might be "
more liturgical" than another, but even there I would challenge this assumption-- it implies that a more heavily-responsive liturgy is more actively engaging than a less heavily-responsive one, which may not actually be the case (though it if is, perhaps the worshiper should seek out the more engaging style if he is earnestly seeking to worship God).

"Liturgy" isn't anything mystical, legalistic, or archaic. There are churches that employ more highly-structured liturgies that are all of those; likewise, there are churches that employ a much more "freestyle" liturgy that are all of those, as well. We should learn to use the term "liturgy" for what it means, and recognize the benefit that our various liturgies are to our congregation's worship.

I'll get into
how liturgy benefits us in a future post.

*I realize that I've inadvertently stumbled into using another term that is misused or misunderstood today: the idea of a worship service. Many churches don't use this term now, preferring "worship event" or some such; but that is another rant altogether. For now, please accept my premise that I use the phrase "worship service" because it is the term the Bible uses to describe our public act of worship.

Sermon texts for February 2010 (updated)

We haven't even started February sermons, but already a change in schedule! (Due to cancellation last weekend...)

February 7 Genesis 2:1-3 -- The blessing of holiness
February 14 Genesis 2:4-17 -- Into Eden
February 21 Genesis 2:18-25 -- A suitable helper (Lent 1)
February 28 Genesis 3:1-7 -- Into temptation...

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Books for January 2010

These are the books I read in January:
  • The Liturgical Year by Joan Chittister. I reviewed this book already. (3)
  • Guilt by Brent Curtis. This little booklet, designed to be a small group resource, is a very good examination of guilt (both false and true) and shame, and a look at how the Bible teaches us to face and deal with guilt. A good resource, but unfortunately out-of-print. (8+)
  • Let's Study Ephesians by Sinclair Ferguson. We used this book for a Sunday School class, and the Elder who taught the class and I read through the book together. It's excellent, like all of the Let's Study... series from Banner of Truth; great for a group or individual study, a class, or just as a guide to Ephesians. (9)