Thursday, November 28, 2013

A Table Service of Thanksgiving

Psalm 65 Te decet hymnus (read it online)

Abraham Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Day Proclamation, 1863:
The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God.

In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign states to invite and provoke their aggressions, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere, except in the theater of military conflict; while that theater has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.

Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense have not arrested the plow, the shuttle, or the ship; the ax has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege, and the battlefield, and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised, nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American people. I do, therefore, invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a Day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that, while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation, and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.
. . .
Abraham Lincoln

Prayer of Thanksgiving:
Accept, O Lord, our thanks and praise for all that you have
done for us. We thank you for the splendor of the whole
creation, for the beauty of this world, for the wonder of life,
and for the mystery of love.

We thank you for the blessing of family and friends, and for
the loving care which surrounds us on every side.

We thank you for setting us at tasks which demand our best
efforts, and for leading us to accomplishments which satisfy
and delight us.

We thank you also for those disappointments and failures
that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone.

Above all, we thank you for your Son Jesus Christ; for the
truth of his Word and the example of his life; for his steadfast
obedience, by which he overcame temptation; for his dying,
through which he overcame death; and for his rising to life
again, in which we are raised to the life of your kingdom.

Grant us the gift of your Spirit, that we may know him and
make him known; and through him, at all times and in all
places, may give thanks to you in all things.  Amen.
(“The Great Thanksgiving” from Book of Common Prayer, 1979)

(Old Hundredth [how most people know it] or Tallis Canon)
Praise God, from whom all blessings flow,
Praise Him, all creatures here below.
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Safely through another year

Duty in one church kept me from “Christ the King” Sunday in another. So I have crafted this little compensatory devotional moment.

“Christ the King” Sunday is not among the Evangelical Feasts (that is, the liturgical calendar retained by the Continental Reformers because the events are strictly biblical). And there is hardly a Sunday in which it would not be appropriate to acknowledge Christ as King. Still, the Church in her wisdom has set aside parts of the year to be sure we don’t lose sight of important themes.

The liturgical calendar is built around the life, death, resurrection, ascension, and ministry of Jesus (which of course includes the sending of the Holy Spirit). This coming Sunday, December 1, starts that cycle of remembrance again, with the first Sunday of Advent. The Sunday prior to Advent 1 concludes the cycle by proclaiming, “Christ is King.”

Prayer (a hymn): Let all the world in every corner sing
Let all the world in every corner sing, my God and King!
     The heavens are not too high,
     Their praises may thither fly;
     The earth is not too low,
     Their praises there may grow.
Let all the world in every corner sing, my God and King!
     The church with psalms must shout,
     No door can keep them out;
     But above all, the heart
     Must bear the longest part.
Let all the world in every corner sing, my God and King!
(George Herbert)

Scripture: John 18:33-40 (click here to read)

Psalm 45 (click here to read)

Anthem: “In Thee is Gladness”

Scripture: Revelation 15:2-4
And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mingled with fire — and also those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside a sea of glass with harps of God in their hands. And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, “Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations! Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.”

Hymn: “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name”

Prayer: from the Book of Common Prayer (1979)
Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Monday, November 25, 2013


I praise my children for aspects of their character, and for things they have done that give evidence of their character.

I congratulate them for their accomplishments. Some of those accomplishments are also reflective of their character; then praise and congratulation get a little tangled. The difference is that even when they think they are not accomplishing anything, or if I don’t happen to hear about the fruit of their labors, their character is still praise-worthy.

The church praises God because of Who God is, which is seen – evidenced, displayed, manifest – in what God has done. With God, all accomplishments are reflective of character, so we never think of “congratulation” in worship. (And this, by the way, is a way I make sense out of the biblical imperative to praise God. God does not want our congratulations – as if the greater could be congratulated by the lesser – but rather wants us to acknowledge divine acts that display divine character, entirely for our good.)

So in our music of praise and worship, let us look for songs that remind us of God’s character, and that celebrate the manifestation of that character in the works of God. Let us refuse to sing songs that congratulate ourselves (I will sing, I will praise, I love you Lord). Let us refuse to program songs that fall short of the biblical standards of praise by not telling us why (in what particular ways) God is to be praised, and by not telling us what God – and as Christians, specifically what God in Christ – has done.

I have long forgotten who said this, but I find it a helpful aphorism: “Praise is Proclamation.”

I think about this today whilst trying to move beyond my rant from last week. The song I called out does not qualify as “praise” in any sense (never mind the biblical sense), and as more than one reader noted, is “Christian” in no sense at all. By contrast, I was in a worship service yesterday which employed several songs that I wouldn’t mind never singing again. But they hit the marks as genuine songs of praise – celebrating God’s character as demonstrated by, or seen through, the many mighty acts of our redemption. In a form or style I would not have chosen for myself, I stood among a group of believers and with them sang authentic praise to God.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


I really do not want this to be a rant. And I will keep identifying names and places out of it. But I experienced this today, and it troubles me.

Picture a room filled with hundreds of 18 to 22 year-olds. They have gathered, as they do a few times a week – not necessarily by choice – for a communal spiritual exercise. They are Christian believers (for the most part) under the care of older Christian believers to whom they have been entrusted for their spiritual care.

Those elders are highly educated, with biblical, theological, and/or divinity degrees. They are trying to do what is right, I suppose. No: to be fair, I really do believe they are trying to do what is right. To some degree that means giving students the opportunity to plan, prepare, and take leadership in this spiritual exercise. But I wonder, how much direction was given to what I participated in today? And here I mean musical, theological, and spiritual direction.

The first song was by a worship song writer who is widely sung and highly touted. In fairness, I have not taken the effort to learn many of his songs. Some I have appreciated, a couple I have thought very good. This one had only one word (one word) to clearly distinguish it from a pop song: “sacrifice.” (Sure, the word “sacrifice” could be used in a love song, but at least here it clearly means something spiritual. Just exactly what it means spiritually isn’t very clear, except to insiders who know the lingo.) Some readers will know from the lyrics who wrote the song. This is not a post about a songwriter, so, “no names, please”:
     I lay me down
     I’m not my own
     I belong to you alone
     Lay me down
     Lay me down
     Hand on my heart
     This much is true
     There’s no life apart from you
     Lay me down
     Lay me down
     Oh oh oh
     Lay me down
     Lay me down

Verse 1 has the insider lingo about sacrifice. You would probably recognize it as religious; maybe as Christian. That person you want to come to church with you? For whom you think we should be singing songs like this in church? I have to think, s/he will be more confused by that veiled sacrifice reference than by an old fashioned hymn about the blood of Jesus. Just sayin’. At least he/she would know what we’re singing about. Verse 2 might put that person right at ease. Maybe even snuggle up a bit:
     Verse 2
     Letting go of my pride
     Giving up all my rights
     Take this life and let it shine
     Take this life and let it shine.

This was our first “worship song” today. Then some announcements and a prayer. And then the person leading the music asked us to stand again to sing another song. (Well, what he asked was that we stand, and what we were going to do was “start to worship.”) I wrote this down, but I’m sure it is not verbatim. This is what he said: “People in other countries are being killed for their faith, who would love to have an opportunity like this, to worship.”

To which my immediate response was:
“And we? We squander the opportunity.”

  • We squander the opportunity to help young adults move beyond their high school youth group experience.
  • We squander the opportunity to train young musicians and pastoral leaders as spiritual guides through gathered worship.
  • We squander the opportunity to expand the world view of Christian college students.
  • We squander the opportunity to help young adults look beyond themselves and their own immediate pleasures.
  •  We squander the opportunity to express ideas and feelings in ways that draw us to maturity.
  • We squander the opportunity to serve the broader church by providing broader perspectives on music and worship.

Let me be clear. We can seize all these opportunities with music and musical styles that appeal most to the 18 to 22 year-old crowd. (As if there is a crowd of 18 to 22 year olds.) Not only with the music that immediately appeals to them; and not without the music that appeals to them. This rant – OK, so it is a rant – is not about style of music. It is about adults providing leadership to college students. It is about theological responsibility in our singing. It is about expecting college to be a time to grow up. That could all have been accomplished today, without taking away the student initiative and without removing the student appeal. But today, at least, those opportunities were squandered.