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Entries in call to worship (5)


Worship as Trinitarian CPR

The worship service is a dynamic moment. Too often, we're tempted to think low thoughts about what a worship service actually is and what is actually happening there. So, let me put it bluntly. In worship, God intends to kill you and then make you alive again. Every week.

God wants His weight to so crush you, His heat to so scorch you, His light to so blind you, that you must cry out to God the Father, "Save me!" At this point, the Gospel rushes forth, a mighty Wind into your lungs from the Holy Spirit breathing the Son into your lifeless body.

Over at Worship Cohort--a site I heartily recommend for solid thinking on worship alongside practical helps--I describe how the Call to Worship is not an empty ritual but a dramatic event where dead people are called out among the graveyard of life into a resurrecting, resuscitative moment. Here's an excerpt:

Between Sundays, we do a whole lot of dying. And then, drug to worship by God’s providence, just as our soul is about to gasp its last breath, God (Father) says, “Wake up, sleeper,” and we rise again by the Breath (Spirit) of the Gospel (Son). Trinitarian CPR. That’s what worship is.

Go read the whole article here!


A Comprehensive Collection of Short Explanations of Various Elements of Liturgy

For over five years, while Pastor of Worship & Liturgy at Cherry Creek Presbyterian Church in Denver, CO, I weekly wrote "column notes" for our four-page order of worship.  These brief notes would appear in a long, narrow strip on the right side of our bulletin, and their main function was to educate our worshipers about what we were doing in worship and to inspire a more whole-hearted understanding of and participation in worship.  

Over those five years, I watched God use those worship notes to shape our doxological community.  I watched liturgical skeptics become my best allies and supporters.  I watched modern worship folks transform into lovers of tradition.  I watched traditionalists develop more generous spirits toward elements and aspects of worship that seemed foreign, devoid of meaning, or overly ritualistic.  

As a pastor, I received more feedback about the positive impact of those worship notes than I did about any other aspect of my pastoral ministry.  These worship notes are over 80 pages worth of helpful summaries of various elements of worship.  I almost found it a weekly discipline (sometimes a painful one) of distilling thought into short, understandable explanations.  

It also became a way that I was able to help the congregation grow into a full-orbed theology of worship, as the worship notes began to span out beyond the scope of merely explaining the liturgy to explaining and articulating what worship was all about.  The notes, therefore, became a place where we not only exegeted worship, but exegeted culture and our own hearts, as well.  

Over the years, the worship notes doc has become a distillation of much of what I've read and attempted to appropriate for my local context.  I kept it pretty organized, alphabetized by topic and then subsumed under larger categories.  Some of my explanations are highly specific and contextual to my theological tradition (Reformed Presbyterian), denomination (Evangelical Presbyterian Church), or city (Denver), but the notes are generally transferrable to a lot of different contexts.  Insofar as they're useful to my readership, I commend them to you.  

To make the best use of the document, I'd suggest opening it and doing keyword searches to quickly navigate...things like "Call to Worship," "Advent," "Doxology," or "Drums."  Here's just a snapshot of some of the content of the Worship Notes document:

  • Explanation of the Call to Worship
  • What does "Doxology" mean?
  • Why do we recite the Apostles' Creed?
  • Stories and explanations of hymns and modern worship songs
  • What does "liturgy" mean?
  • Why do we call it "Communion?"
  • What is a litany?
  • Why Responsive Readings link us with the worship of the ancient church
  • Why repetition in worship is not a bad thing
  • How singing hymns is like drinking theology
  • Why do we pronounce a Benediction?
  • Why preaching is important in a postmodern age
  • Is it okay to raise hands during worship?
  • How we participate in the baptism of others
  • How listening to Scripture and Sermon is an act of worship

If you want an even more hands-on taste, check out this post on the Call to Worship.  It's basically copied and pasted straight from all the worship notes on that subject I wrote over the years.

So, if the worship notes document is useful to your churches, I invite you to beg, borrow and steal.  I only ask that, when certain resources have been quoted, you provide the necessary references.



Why We Gather for Worship

"Constituting and Fulfilling the Church"...Yikes

Bloggers can easily tell when a post resonates with a large amount of people because of the way their hits spike over a given 48 hours.  A recent post on Why We Need the Call to Worship did that.  My hunch as to what resonated was how all those various short blurbs on the Call to Worship pointed to the gravity and depth of what corporate worship truly is.  

Some of the best advice I've received on reading theology is to regularly venture out of one's tradition.  In doing so, I've found a bedfellow in Orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemann, especially on the topic of what worship is and "does."  About gathering for worship, Schmemann says,

The journey begins when Christians leave their homes and beds. They leave, indeed, their life in this present and concrete world, and whether they have to drive fifteen miles or walk a few blocks, a sacramental act is already taking place, an act which is the very condition of everything else that is to happen. For they are now on their way to constitute the Church, or to be more exact, to be transformed into the Church of God. They have been individuals, some white, some black, some poor, some rich, they have been the "natural" world and a natural community. And now they have been called to "come together in one place," to bring their lives, their very "world" with them and to be more than what they were: a new community with a new life. We are already far beyond the categories of common worship and prayer. The purpose of this "coming together" is not simply to add a religious dimension to the natural community, to make it "better"--more responsible, more Christian. The purpose is to fulfill the Church, and that means to make present the One in whom all things are at their end, and all things are at their beginning.1

We evangelicals struggle to understand this reality (yet thirst to understand better) because many of us have an "underdeveloped ecclesiology"--a very anemic view of who and what the Church is.  Our (great) heritage has emphasized our personal relationship with God.  If we've grown up in the evangelical Church, we will have no doubt been taught at camps, retreats, and in discipleship courses that we must pursue God one on one and cultivate the devotional life of personal piety.  This emphasis, wonderful as it is, can have a negative impact on us, causing us to squeeze out any sense of who we are, not as individuals before God, but as the Church.  In other words, heavy doses of our individual relationship with God can when left unchecked squelch our sense of corporate identity as the Body of Christ.  The result is that when we read Schmemann throw out phrases like "constitute the Church" and "fulfill the Church," we scratch our heads, cock our eyebrows, and with a gnarled face mutter, "Hmm...sounds kind of Catholic."

There exists a desperate need for evangelicals to recover a high ecclesiology, a robust sense of who we are as part of the Church community.  The beauty of this recovery is that we don't have to give up much...only add to.  A strong, positive view of the Church doesn't come at the expense of the great Reformational doctrines that we prize or the individual personal piety we emphasize.  In fact, evangelicals could be poised to be one of the "brands" of Christianity that have the most full-orbed expressions of historic, biblical Christianity...if we begin to recover a high view of the Church.

What does this mean for gathering for worship?  

First, it raises the stakes.  If, in worship, we're more fully "becoming the Church," we have to take attendance and active participation seriously.  

Second, it means that God is doing some actual spiritually formative work in us, even when we simply come and get our backsides in the seats.  

Third, it means that in corporate worship (as opposed to in our homes or at our workplaces or anywhere else), human beings gain some of the truest sense of who we are.  This is going to sound a little crazy, but in corporate worship, we gain a truer sense of the meaning of life.  

Fourth, it means that pastors, worship leaders, and planners can't just shoot from the hip when planning a worship service.  We can't just look for what's hip, what's on the CCLI charts, what technological accessories we'll employ, what people want to hear, want to sing, want to do.  There must be purpose in both the content and form of our worship.

Finally, it means that we want to be very careful of replacing a worship service with anything else.  It's in vogue today to talk about the fact that the church needs to be more active in our communities. It gets tricky, though, when you have such a low view of the Church and her worship that you look at the service of the Church as expendable or replaceable.  This happens when churches say, "Instead of worship this Sunday, let's do a church-wide community service project.  We'll 'worship' in that act!"  In one sense, we can applaud this gutsy move, because they're saying, "Hey, folks, serving our community is really, really important.  We're even willing to close up shop on worship to do it."  But two things should give us pause: (a) all that we've said above about what happens when we gather; (b) the fact that this seems to be a pretty unprescedented move in the history of the worshiping Church.

I personally feel like I'm just scratching the surface on understanding what it means to be the Church, but the more I scratch, the more I'm discovering that I've been missing out on something pretty amazing.

1 Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World (Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1973), 27.

Open Our Eyes: A Worship Song Based on Luke 24

Emmaus Road (Stained Glass)The Story

Ever since my conversion to a more sacramental understanding of the Lord's Supper, and upon reading Henri Nouwen's, With Burning Hearts, I've been captivated by that odd encounter that Jesus had with two downcast sojourners on the Emmaus Road after Christ's crucifixion, recorded in Luke 24.  

Several things about that encounter keep fascinating me:

  • The sojourners "were kept from recognizing" Jesus for a long time (v 16)
  • Part of what began lifting their spirits was when Jesus, "beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself" (v 27); so Jesus "preached Himself" from the Old Testament!
  • While Jesus preached, their "hearts burned" (v 32)
  • God allowed them to recognize Jesus only after He broke the bread (vv 31-32)

Good exegetes who look for "authorial intent" would notice that Luke's description of this whole encounter is loaded with early Christian worship language.  Emmaus Road is an encounter of Word and sacrament, the two main pillars of Christian worship from the beginning (read Bryan Chapell's Christ-Centered Worship for more on this).

When I heard that the Gospel Coalition was summoning submissions for worship songs based on the book of Luke, I felt a nearly immediate summons to figure out how to capture chapter 24 in music.  I also knew that my good friend over at Cardiphonia, Bruce Benedict, would be the perfect songwriting partner, (1) because he shares my passion for this understanding of Luke 24, and (2) because many of his songwriting strengths shine where mine are weakest.  (Read his post on the song.)  Bruce emailed me, in short order, the anchor verses, and then I added a few more verses and a chorus and set those things to a simple tune.  Bruce tweaked the tune, tweaked my verses...then we went back and forth on some finer points of precision about theology and themes...and then Bruce passed on the words and music for the bridge, and voila, we had a song.

What I Love

Here's what I love about this song:

  • Musically, it's singable, fairly simple, and has a good dynamic and melodic contour
  • Textually, it's dense with both experience and Truth, and it's loaded with the doctrine of the sufficiency of Christ and the theological vision of the book of Hebrews
  • Experientially, it makes corporate the individuals' experiences in Luke 24--burning hearts, opening eyes
  • Theologically, it embodies the Greek concept of remembrance/anamnesis with a strong emphasis on the Trinitarian causality of that remembrance (the Trinity causes us to remember Himself in Word and sacrament)

The Song

In my opinion, this song works great alongside celebration of the Lord's Supper or as an Offertory or song of preparation leading into the preaching of the Word.  It works equally well at the top of a service as the call to worship or song of gathering.  It's quite flexible, I think.  

I recorded a simple demo with piano and guitars, and afterward Bruce and I received some great constructive feedback from our friend and gifted author, musician, worship leader, and songwriter, Greg Scheer.  The recording doesn't reflect some of the subtle melodic changes from Scheer's comments, but the below text reflects those minor revisions in the lyrics that post-date the demo.  Bruce and I hope you enjoy it and maybe even utilize it in your worship.

Listen to it

(Download/listen to the mp3


When we see the risen Savior
In the bread that He has blessed,
He becomes the living Servant, 
Heavenly food for holy rest.

Stay with us, for day is fading,
Feast with us, O secret King;
Show to us how Scripture's story
Speaks of You in everything.

Do not our hearts burn brightly now?
For You're here among us now. 

Jesus, show Yourself the author 
And perfecter of our faith;
In Your living and Your dying,
Consummation of God's grace.

From creation to the exile,
Incarnation to the grave,
Resurrection to ascension,
Come, Lord Jesus, come to save!

Do not our hearts burn brightly now?
For You're here among us now. 

Open our eyes to see You, Christ,
Risen, ascended, reigning high;
Open our eyes, open our eyes to You.

Feed us with living bread above;
Bind us in union with Your love;
Open our eyes, open our eyes to You. 

You're the Word that spoke creation;
You're the End of Moses' law;
You're the Goal of Abra'am's blessing;
You're the King whom David saw.

You're the Day the prophets longed for;
You're the covenant of grace;
You're the hero of the Scriptures;
Now we see You face to face.

(Pre-Chorus & Chorus)

You remember God the Father,
You remember God the Son,
You remember God the Spirit
In the hearts of those You've won. 

(Pre-Chorus & Chorus)

So Jesus, show Yourself the Prophet,
Jesus, show Yourself the King,
Jesus, show Yourself the Priest,
All in all, and everything. 

Words & Music: Bruce Benedict & Zac Hicks, 2012
(c) 2012 Cardiphonia Music & Unbudding Fig Music 

The Theology

A final set of thoughts, if you care to read on.  Here are the doctrines and theological ideas explored in this song. See if you can find them in the text (some of them I've already pointed out).

  • anamnesis / remembrance
  • Trinity
  • the three-fold office of Christ
  • union with Christ
  • covenant theology
  • typology
  • active and passive obedience of Christ
  • eschatology
  • sabbath
  • eucharist as festal celebration
  • soteriology - significance of not only the crucifixion, but the resurrection, ascension, and second coming
  • heavenly session of Christ at the Father's right hand

Why We Need the Call to Worship

In our weekly printed bulletins, we have a sidebar column that acts as a commentary and explanation for what we do in our services. This "Worship Notes" section contains short paragraphs on the significance of various elements of our worship. We explain everything from the meaning and origin of the Doxology, to why we preach sermons, to the significance of the Lord's Supper, to backgrounds on the songs we sing. Here are four worship notes on the Call to Worship--the beginning of the service where we hear God's summons to gather and praise His name.

Click to read more ...