Here in the United States we are reminded of our freedom on the 4th of July each year. This freedom has been bought with the blood of men and women sworn to protect us. And, for this freedom we should truly be thankful.
We are also reminded of the freedom we find in Christ. True freedom is found in a relationship with Him. And, for this freedom we should truly be thankful.
Below are the lyrics of the hymn “Eternal Father, Strong to Save.” The fact that this is referred to as the Navy Hymn is also a reminder that the freedom we enjoy in this country is intertwined with the love of God and His care for humanity. Regardless of the detractors in society today, our country has threads of faith winding through its very core. We should not be ashamed of this foundation of faith, and our yearly celebrations provide another opportunity to be reminded of this truth.
Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who biddest the mighty ocean deep,
Its own appointed limits keep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!
O Christ! Whose voice the waters heard
And hushed their raging at Thy Word,
Who walked on the foaming deep,
And calm amidst its rage didst sleep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!
Most Holy Spirit! Who didst brood
Upon the chaos dark and rude,
And bid its angry tumult cease,
And give, for wild confusion, peace;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!
O Trinity of love and power!
Our family shield in danger’s hour;
From rock and tempest, fire and foe,
Protect us wheresoever we go;
Thus evermore shall rise to Thee
Glad hymns of praise from land and sea.
(Original Post on July 3, 2012 at the Worldview Church: http://www.breakpoint.org/worshiparts/articles/18079-worship-and-patriotism-part-2-of-2)
Thoughts published previously, but worthwhile in troubled times…
The question will inevitably arise as to how appropriate it is to sing patriotic songs during our worship services. These types of questions arise each year in proximity to the July 4th holiday, as well as other national celebrations in which we remember America’s heritage.
Most of the arguments against such a focus on patriotic themes are that our public worship is about God and worshiping Him. To focus on our country, our troops, and our feelings about them would be close to “idol” worship, and therefore be inappropriate. At least that’s how the logic goes. This seems to me to be a limited understanding of the communal aspects of public worship, and fails to recognize the importance of the interpersonal relationships among those worshiping together (see Colossians 3).
I fall clearly into the other camp that would say that it is both important and appropriate to draw a celebration of our country into our corporate worship experience. I would point out that Paul, in Romans 13, establishes the precedent of acknowledging the ruling authorities as operating under the authority of God. With this in mind, our worship (especially here in the USA) recognizes God’s grace and mercy in giving us the freedom through our governing authorities to worship Him and proclaim Christian truth.
This is not about any particular political agenda, or at least it shouldn’t be. Our celebration of freedom and liberty during these times recognizes the great sacrifice that men and women have made in order to secure that freedom. In some ways, they are a reflection of the sacrifice Christ made on the cross to secure our spiritual freedom. These are the kinds of connections we can make when we view our culture through the lens of a Christian Worldview.
Truly, we are not worshiping our country, but we worship our God Who has given us the privilege of living and worshiping here. As we do so, may we also remember those who have protected that freedom throughout this nation’s history. Let us honor them, and pray for them and their families, in the midst of celebrating within our communities.
(Original Post on June 26, 2012 at the Worldview Church: http://www.breakpoint.org/worshiparts/articles/18040-worship-and-patriotism-part-1-of-2)
I continue to wonder how closely those who plan and lead worship really read the lyrics of songs used in corporate worship. In addition to many obvious theological and biblical errors found in modern songs, there seem to be many songs cropping up lately that assume all those who participate in worship should feel, respond, or believe in a particular way. At times, I find myself distracted by the lyrics and begin to reflect on whether I should really be singing those words, making those commitments, or assuming those convictions.
In the effort to sing the latest and greatest songs churned out by the industry, and played excessively on Christian radio, worshipers have been exposed to sentiments that may neither be biblical nor spiritually healthy. The responsibility for filtering the lyrical content for corporate worship falls squarely on the shoulders of pastors and worship planners, but few seem to really be paying much attention. It seems that sentimentality and feelings rule the day, rather than clear theology (which is one of the purposes for corporate worship, as I’ve written previously).
Although it does not take long to find examples in a quick review of the most popular worship songs, to quote specific songs in evidence would be counterproductive. In conversations about such matters, I find that people get defensive rather than thoughtful. They assume these observations regarding the content of worship are somehow reflecting their personal spirituality, and certainly to attack a favorite song decreases the likelihood of careful consideration and response.
In light of this, let me describe in general terms what I have noticed, and allow you to consider the songs you are asked to sing during worship in coming weeks. Ask yourself if you can make the commitments that are assumed in the lyrics. Do you really believe what you are singing? Are you willing to do whatever the lyrics are committing you to do? Listen carefully, review the lyrics, and sing as both your head and heart are able.
Example 1: Songs that say, “I will bow, lift up my hands, dance…”
Admittedly, some churches are less physically engaged in worship than others. In fact, some people in churches would be shocked at someone who might actually do one or all of these things. Yet, these kinds of sentiments are in the worship music even in churches that discourage such demonstrations.
Example 2: Songs that say, “I will give up everything, leave it all behind, there is nothing I wouldn’t do for Jesus…”
It seems to me that this kind of sentiment must be stated in a figurative way, rather than a literal way, since we seldom see this kind of sacrifice in the Protestant tradition. (However, the Catholic tradition does demonstrate this in some of its religious orders.)
Example 3: Songs that say, “My experience of God makes Him real, and this song is about that experience which you can have, too…”
In spite of our desire to experience God, our experience is the result of Him being real and engaging those He loves. God remains real and faithful in spite of our experience, and to pin our faith on our experience places it on shifting sand.
“So that they might celebrate the dedication with gladness, with hymns of thanksgiving and with songs to the accompaniment of cymbals, harps and lyres.” (Nehemiah 12:27)
Now that the great Easter services are over, what do we do? How do we top that?
I have found over the years that churches, pastors, worship leaders and music planners have a tendency to create such grandiose worship services for Easter (and other major holidays), that the following weeks are something of a let-down. After the hours and hours of work and preparation, rehearsal, and the adrenaline rush of Easter morning, we get tired. And it shows.
I don’t write this in order to take away from the importance of great and celebrative worship. We certainly see examples of this in Scripture, when His people see God move they are often moved to celebration. I’m reminded of the festival-like procession and worship that Nehemiah led after completing the rebuilding of Jerusalem. Two choirs, all the officials in attendance, and an enormous feast!
“Then the two choirs took their stand in the house of God. So did I and half of the officials with me; and the priests…with the trumpets… And the singers sang, with Jezrahiah their leader, and on that day they offered great sacrifices and rejoiced because God had given them great joy, even the women and children rejoiced, so that the joy of Jerusalem was heard from afar. (Nehemiah 12:40-43)
In fact, our Christian year seems to “bounce” from one grand celebration to the next. From Christmas to Easter to other events that are liturgically based as well as cultural. Yet, the intervening weeks sometimes exist as if in a mist. The march of the Sunday-to-Sunday schedule is relentless, and even after the BIG EVENT the next week is just a few days away.
So what do we do? How do we keep up and keep fresh?
Well, ideas may abound to work through these things. Some churches have the ability to draw on resources of multiple teams of people to plan and lead worship, which allows them to plan for and execute the next Sunday’s needs with a fresh perspective and fresh people. Others have leaders that apparently have abundant energy. No need for a break, they just keep going and going (until they burn out!).
Yet, there are many churches and leaders that don’t have such resources of people or energy. Let me share a few suggestions that can give you a change of pace, and that might be welcomed by either your worship planners and leaders, or the congregation (and maybe both!).
First, try to avoid big holiday celebrations!
Yes, what you read is what I meant. There are several churches that I have served in which we avoided a big Christmas production and instead planned a very special Thanksgiving service the Sunday before Thanksgiving. We included choirs and solos and testimonies and preaching – just like any holiday service. The difference was that we spent all of our preparation time in September through mid-November, and then we were done. We celebrated the Christmas season in a much more relaxed atmosphere as a result, and the Church gave a needed “rest” to families needing more time during the holiday.
A Second idea is to plan a “mini event” each month.
You might think that would be a lot of extra work, but in fact it is an opportunity to involve others in significant ways in worship. For example, there may be a small group of men or women that would enjoy putting together a package of songs to sing, and maybe even participate in leading the congregational singing. They could be scheduled two or three times a year. Many churches have children’s choirs that could be scheduled more than at Christmas and Easter. Why not let the Youth groups plan a service two or three times per year? These ideas, if scheduled in advance, can allow those planning the “bigger” services to get a break, and yet provide the congregation with some very enjoyable services.
A Third is to be Purposeful …
A final suggestion I have leads us back to the need of these next few weeks, now that Easter is behind us. My thought is to be purposeful about quietness and reflection. The members of the congregation may be experiencing some exhaustion from Easter activities as well, not to mention that some Spring Break activity goes on in the same time frame. Here are several ways that this could function:
- Review the story of Christ’s appearances following the Resurrection. Consider what it may have been like for those who saw Him. How might that idea work in a worship service?
- Spend time in the service reflecting on the coming summer months – what is God preparing for your congregation? How might we bring redemption into the lives of those God has put in our paths?
- Consider the grandeur of God and the ascension of Christ to His right hand? What might it be like in their presence?
These are only a few thoughts. The flow of worship from week to week should follow the “warp and woof” of life. Just like we celebrate in life, we must also get on with the daily life of work. Some days seem to be more wonderful and wondrous, and others mundane – yet all are to be lived under the Lordship of Christ, the resurrected Lord!
(Original Post on April 21, 2014 at the Worldview Church)