Monday, September 29, 2008

Emotional response

How do I know when I have worshipped? Is it when I have had some kind of emotional or visceral response? Is it when I have performed certain actions or cried a certain number of tears?

I think both of these answers, the emotional and the mechanistic, are wrong and for the same reason: They are both about me.

Years ago, I was participating in a celebration of the Lord's Supper. (For all you Roman Catholics, Lutherans and Reformed folks, I'm a Zwinglian in this. If you're a Southern Baptist, it means that I almost certainly believe the same as you about what's going on. But I digress.) At that particular time, I was deeply moved by the service: Meditating on my sin and on the greatness of my Savior. But the next time our church celebrated the Supper, I tried to get the feeling back.

When I was in college (the first time, for those who are keeping track of these things), I did what every underclassman had to do: I took a course in basic psychology. One of the things the book talked about was the lengths to which people will go to capture a feeling they called Nirvana. One of the examples they gave was actually of Roman Catholics celebrating mass. Now, I don't think the authors were talking about the Hindu Nirvana in the theological sense, but only about an emotional sensation.

The authors of the psychology text (No, I don't remember who they were — it was thirty years ago. Deal.) were starting with the assumption that there was nothing there, and that the external observer had a truer idea about what was going on than the participants. (As a response to that, you should try to find C.S. Lewis's little essay, "Meditation in a Toolshed.")

And I realized that was exactly what I was doing, even with my Evangelical belief in what's going on in the Lord's Supper: I was trying to capture an emotional sensation.

It was a sin.

It was a sin because it was about me and what I was feeling and about my response to the message and the ceremony.

So I started thinking about worship and what we go through to "get there," to know we have worshipped. And I wondered if it didn't amount to the same thing.

As Christians, however, we believe there is something there, that it is independent of us, and that something is really going on in the Supper. Where can we go to find out what it is? How about 1 Corinthians 11:23-26:

For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, "This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.

People from various traditions will interpret this in different ways, but the apostle's final statement is something we can all agree on: The Lord's Supper is a proclamation of the Gospel, a declaration that there is forgiveness of sins and of the way forgiveness was procured, and all those who trust in that forgiveness have it.


I brought all that up, not as a thing to talk about (though it's a great subject), but as an example of worship. In particular, when I celebrate the Lord's supper, it's not about me and my feelings, not about me and my response, but about Jesus and His forgiveness.

I claim that this principle holds for all worship: It's not about me and my feelings; it's not about me and my response. It's about Jesus and His forgiveness. I have worshipped when, as a believer, I have proclaimed the Gospel.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

A new reformation (small "r")

At Pyromaniacs (linked on the right), Phil Johnson was writing about a particular individual who had seemingly become apostate (fallen away from the faith). He followed that with some general comments about folks who've done this, and in those, this was number five:

A disproportionate number of apostates seem to come from the kind of ├╝ber-rigid fundamentalist backgrounds where what you do seems to be given ultimacy over what you believe. That kind of stress on externals naturally cultivates Pharisaism rather than authentic faith, so we shouldn't be surprised at the high percentage of apostates such a system produces.

I wonder if that applies equally to the popular preacher who said, "We need a new reformation of deeds, not creeds."

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Is it a sin?

Is it a sin to be shy?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Not Scrooge

The hardest thing about the hymn verse below is the word “Ebenezer”. That word comes from I Samuel 7:12. In that chapter, the people of Israel came together and repented, and while they were together — well, here, read it for yourself:

As Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to attack Israel. But the Lord thundered with a mighty sound that day against the Philistines, and threw them into confusion, and they were routed before Israel. And the men of Israel went out from Mizpah and pursued the Philistines and struck them, as far as below Beth-car.

Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen, and called its name Ebenezer, for he said, “Till now, the Lord has helped us.”

So “Ebenezer” means “stone of help” and it refers to a particular memorial set up to help the people remember that the Lord has helped them, and he is the source of all their help. (For a closely related reference, see Psalm 121.)

Here I raise my Ebenezer; hither by thy help I've come,
And I hope by Thy good pleasure safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger wand'ring from the fold of God.
He to rescue me from danger interposed his precious blood.

Thursday, September 11, 2008


I have heard it said that death for a Christian (and for those who love him/her) should not be a sad occasion, but a happy time of homecoming. I can appreciate the contrast with suffering this represents — especially if the suffering is concentrated around the time of death. The relief of the suffering of a loved one and the burden of care for the family can be great.

But when Jesus stood at the tomb of Lazarus, John's Gospel tells us that He was “troubled in Spirit.” Francis Schaeffer wrote (I have forgotten which book I read it in; sorry) that in the Greek, it is plain that Jesus was angry, not just about his friend dying, but about death itself. I wonder how this should color our view of death.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


Hands reaching in

When I was considering beginning blogging, but before I chose the (in my opinion) whimsical name and theme now found here, I very nearly settled on the name Verge of Jordan, based on this verse of the old hymn, “Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah.” The point was that because life in this world is short — especially compared to eternity — we are all on the “verge of Jordan,” i.e., near death, and all our actions, all our words, all our thoughts, all our desires, when rightly oriented in this life, always have eternity in view.

As it stands, what this verse expresses is reliance through Jesus on our Heavenly Father's grace and mercy to see us through this life.

When I tread the verge of Jordan,
Bid my anxious fears subside;
Death of deaths, and hell’s destruction,
Land me safe on Canaan’s side.
Songs of praises, songs of praises,
I will ever give to Thee;
I will ever give to Thee.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Christian issues in the presidential election

I have to admit in advance that many of you (as if anyone is actually reading this) may not agree with this, but there are few — very few — Christian issues in the current national election cycle. What I'm thinking of is not indirect issues such as taxation, defense, entitlements, etc., even though these are important issues; in fact, they are issues I have strong opinions on. I'm thinking now of issues the Bible addresses directly.
Here are all I can think of:
  • Abortion
  • Definition of marriage
Can you think of any others?