How We Learn In Worship

Ok, posing this question: how do you learn in worship?

Worship and Culture

Pondering this from Calvin Institute of Worship:

“Worship should strike a healthy balance among four approaches or dimensions to its cultural context: worship is transcultural, contextual, cross-cultural, and counter-cultural.”


Inconvenience Me, O God

Each year, in the dead of winter, I make an annual pilgrimage to Michigan to attend a great worship symposium at Calvin College.

At this point, you might question my sanity – to go to Michigan during the freeze-you- keester-off time if year. I enjoy the respite from the Houston humidity. I figure I can deal with a little cold. After all, to attend the best symposium on worship, one must put up with some inconveniences.

This means a plane ride.

Today, as I entered the plane, I saw that I was going to be sitting in the student section – a contingency of Calvin College students as God would have it.

Oh great, all I wanted was a quiet flight to do my Bible in 90 Days reading, relax with my iPhone, and be calm. Now, it looks like I’m going to have more than just the weather as an inconvenience.

Just a quiet flight, that’s all I want. Hear my prayer, O God.

As I sit down, the plane wreaks of sweaty, unbathed 20 year olds. Great, now, an aroma is going to be my traveling companion. AND, I’m next to the bathroom at the back of the plane. Geez.

All I want is a smell-free journey. Can I have a little peace? After all, I do this so I can serve you better. Hear my prayer, O God.

Not wanting to be rude, I sit down, ask names I won’t remember, introduce myself, blah, blah, blah.

O, let me just get my headphones on! Hear my prayer, O God.

OK, so I have to ask these kids about their majors. I can’t be rude. Make it short. Hear my prayer, O God.

It is Betsy’s dream to be a Pediatric Dentist. She is a sophomore. I tell her that she will make money. She laughs. She tells me that she wants to make enough so that she can create mission trips to other countries and offer care to children. She wants to fund them all herself. It’s her passion.

Tom is a senior. He is majoring in Bio-science. He dreams of being a Physicians Assistant. I ask if he has an idea what area of medicine he wishes to do. Be tells me that he is a patient care provider at a psyche hospital. (Ever been to a psyche ward?!?) He found that when he works with those with mental disorders, he knows he has found his calling.

The others have equally compelling stories. Alright God, you have my attention. But why are they on this flight?

They are all on a Spanish class trip to Nicaragua to immerse themselves in the culture and learn Spanish. The went to stay for two weeks with no running water, no electricity, bucket showers, wash in a river, and food they don’t care to recognize. They stayed in local homes and interacted completely with their families. Hear this – they chose to do this and paid their own way.

They ask me where I’m from and what I do? A discussion ensues. For the next 45 minutes I sit at the feet of the kids and learn what it is to be 20 and come to know Christ at 14. I sit at the feet of these young men and women and learn what it is like to be 20 and find a church home. I sit at the feet of a 19 year old and learn how they practice their faith.

I guess my time for learning about worship begins a bit early.

Teach me your ways, even if it is at 35,000 feet. Hear my prayer, O God.

We spend many minutes talking of Mars Hill church, where they attend, their faith journey, and what aspects of worship connect them with the Holy. They are hungry to know God and what they have never learned because they didn’t grow up in church.

As we begin our descent, the conversations have turned to the usual things – Michigan summers, hair products, shoveling snow, and the schedule for their classes and part time jobs. It is noisy – but a joyful noise.

I think that noise is what the scriptures speak of – “the music of the spheres. It’s a noise of lives being changed. And, it’s traveling to God’s ears. And, it is good and God is pleased.

I think the aroma is the one spoken of in Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The aroma of young Christians taking the Gospel to those who live in a foreign land. This is an aroma that is pleasing to God.

Inconvenience me, O Lord. Shake me from my iPod. Open my eyes to your teachings. Speak, O Lord, for your servant is listening. Amen.

Bible in 90 Days: Judges

To go along with your reading, here is the introduction to Judges from The Message by Eugene Peterson:

Sex and violence, rape and massacre, brutality and deceit do not seem to be congenial materials for use in developing a story of salvation. Given the Bible’s subject matter—God and salvation, living well and loving deeply—we quite naturally expect to find in its pages leaders for us who are good, noble, honorable men and women showing us the way. So it is always something of a shock to enter the pages of the Book of Judges and fine ourselves immersed in nearly unrelieved mayhem.

It might not gravel our sensibilities so much if these flawed and reprobate leaders were held up as negative moral examples, with lurid, hellfire descriptions of the punishing consequences of living such bad lives. But the story is not told quite that way. There is a kind of matter-of-fact indifference in the tone of the narration, almost as if God is saying, “Well, if this is all you’re going to give me to work with, I’ll use these men and women, just as they are, and get on with working out the story of salvation.” These people are even given a measure of dignity as they find their place in the story; they are most certainly not employed for the sake of vilification or lampoon.

God, it turns out, does not require good people in order to do good work. He can and does work with us in whatever moral and spiritual condition he finds us. God, we are learning, does some of his best work using the most unlikely people. If God found a way to significantly include these leaders (“judges”) in what we know is on its way to becoming a glorious conclusion, he can certainly use us along with our sometimes impossible friends and neighbors.

Twice in Judges (17:6 and 21:25) there is the telling refrain: “At that time there was no king in Israel. People did whatever they felt like doing.” But we readers know that there was a king in Israel: God was king. And so, while the lack of an earthly king accounts for the moral and political anarchy, the presence of the sovereign God, however obscurely realized, means that the reality of the kingdom is never in doubt.


Bible in 90 Days: Joshua

To go along with your reading, here is the Introduction to the book for Joshua from The Message by Eugene Peterson:

Land. Land flowing with milk and honey. Promised land. Holy land. Canaan land. The land. Joshua, Moses’ successor as leader of Israel, was poised at the River Jordan to enter and take possession of Canaan, an unremarkable stretch of territory sandwiched between massive and already ancient civilizations. It would have been unimaginable to anyone at the time that anything of significance could take place on that land. This narrow patch had never been significant economically or culturally, but only as a land bridge between the two great cultures and economies of Egypt and Mesopotamia. But it was about to become important in the religious consciousness of humankind. In significant ways, this land would come to dwarf everything that had gone on before and around it.

The People of Israel had been landless for nearly five hundred years. The “fathers”—Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and his twelve sons—had been nomads in the land of Canaan. That was followed by a long period of slavery in Egypt (over 400 years!), a miraculous deliverance into freedom led by Moses, and then forty years of testing and training for living as a free people under God’s guidance and blessing.

The company camped at the Jordan on the day that opens the Book of Joshua had nearly half a millennium of slavery behind them. They were a dispossessed, ragtag crew—and only very recently set free. The transition from being landless slaves to landholding free men and women was huge. Joshua leads the transition, first in taking the land (chapters 1 through 12), then in distributing it among the twelve tribes (chapters 13 through 22), and concluding with a solemn covenant-witness (chapters 23 through 24) that bound the people to the gift of land and the worship of the God from whom they received it.

For most modern readers of Joshua, the toughest barrier to embracing this story as sacred is the military strategy of “holy war,” what I have translated as the “holy curse”—killing everyone in the conquered cities and totally destroying all the plunder, both animals and goods. Massacre and destruction. “No survivors” is the recurrent refrain. We look back from our time in history and think, “How horrible.” But if we were able to put ourselves back in the thirteenth century b.c., we might see it differently, for that Canaanite culture was a snake pit of child sacrifice and sacred prostitution, practices ruthlessly devoted to using the most innocent and vulnerable members of the community (babies and virgins) to manipulate God or gods for gain.

As the Book of Joshua takes the story of salvation forward from the leadership and teaching of Moses, it continues to keep us grounded in places and connected to persons: place names, personal names—hundreds of them. What we often consider to be the subjects of religion—ideas, truths, prayers, promises, beliefs—are never permitted to have a life of their own apart from particular persons and actual places. Biblical religion has a low tolerance for “great ideas” or “sublime truths” or “inspirational thoughts” apart from the people and places in which they occur. God’s great love and purposes for us are worked out in the messes, storms and sins, blue skies, daily work, and dreams of our common lives, working with us as we are and not as we should be.

People who want God as an escape from reality, from the often hard conditions of this life, don’t find this much to their liking. But to the man or woman wanting more reality, not less—this continuation of the salvation story—Joshua’s fierce and devout determination to win land for his people and his extraordinary attention to getting all the tribes and their families name by nameassigned to their own place, is good news indeed. Joshua lays a firm foundation for a life that is grounded.


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