Worship materials: books

Several weeks ago,¹ I wrote rather extensively on worship, dealing largely with words and core concepts.  Then on Sunday I shared a bit about songs, articles, and periodicals that have been formative in the worship realm.  Now to a few influential books. . . .

Books
At first blush, it might seem ironic that one reads about worship instead of spending wpid-img_20151024_203516_727.jpgthat reading time worshipping.  Not so.  Taken in balance with experience, dialogue, and scripture study, the reading of books about worship is also important.  Through the years, I have discarded or traded in some books that seemed mute or otherwise less than worthy; others, less likely to be referred to, now reside in a box.  Below are descriptions of some standout books that have had clear influence at points along the way.

Jack R. Taylor:  The Hallelujah Factor (1983)   This little volume came along at just the right time for me, and I always wished I could have experienced what Taylor experienced. He was asked to be interim pastor at a church in Texas and agreed to do so, on the condition that the church would study and practice worship exclusively during his tenure.  This book relates the fruit of such a concentration on worship, and I suspect that many churches, if bold enough to venture forth like this, would realize they hadn’t previously been worshipping much at all.

Matt Redman:  The Unquenchable Worshipper (2001)  Although I only read this once, I feel a fondness and a yearning every time I spy it on my shelf.  I remember thinking that this leader of contemporary worship knew God and understood more deeply most people of this era.

Gene Edwards:  The Divine Romance (1984)   A poorly proofread book by a less-than-polished but highly poetic writer, this is an unusual one.  It is a work of fiction, but one based to a degree on scriptural truth and insight.  It’s not that this book taught me about worship per se, but it uniquely stirred my spiritual imaginings of the One Who is the Object of worship.  One could say that awestruck wonder resides in the background of every page.

Andy T. Ritchie, Jr.:  Thou Shalt Worship the Lord Thy God (1969)  My parents edited and typed the final manuscript of this book authored by my mother’s father.  Their work was accompanied by “a rare kind of empathy,” according to the inscription.  Through the years, I have returned to this book—a section here, a richly poetic prayer there.  At this point, the influence comes largely indirectly—from remembrances of the man who, by so many accounts, allowed deeply adoring words of worship to flow through him as he led and taught.  The brief, written prayers that conclude each chapter of this book are the best of this “genre” that I’ve ever read.

Steven Mosley:  God—A Biography (1988)   How could one resist this title?!  I think I picked it out of a CBD magazine with no knowledge of the author, but I was stimulated to ponder the historical and spiritual realities of God’s activity through Mosley’s writing.  The book alternates the telling of biblical history with other stories in which Mosely observes the work of the great God of All.  All this spurs the reader to worship from a posture of admiring awe.

Max Lucado:  He Chose the Nails (2000)   At an especially fragile time in my life, I sat on a plane and opened my new copy of this Lucado book.  It was my 5th or 6th Lucado book, I think; No Wonder They Call Him the Savior and God Came Near had almost as much impact on me.  These days, I don’t gravitate to Lucado as much (so I didn’t join the “Max Lucado addicts” Facebook group).  However, there were words in this book about my Savior that moved me deeply, leading to joy-filled worship.  Yes, on a plane.  Quietly and with full eyes.

The above captions aren’t necessarily representative of the whole (and neither were the mentions of a few song titles in the last post).  I would also point to the writings of of A.W. Tozer, Twila Paris, Michael Card, Philip Yancey, and others² who have offered various inspirations in their books . . . along with the witness of lives of friends committed to the worship of God.

B. Casey, Sept. 2015


¹ I left the academically important pursuits around worship words/concepts several weeks ago, picking up with a few other aspects before letting this topic rest.  Here are links to some of the earlier posts:

² The influential “others” have not, for one reason or another, included the exemplary-yet-Calvinistic 🙂 theologian J.I. Packer (Knowing God, 1973/93), the late guru Robert Webber (Ancient Future Worship, 2008; Planning Blended Worship, 1998), or any CofC writers who expend significant effort dealing with mechanical instruments vs. the voice.  Although some of these do have something respectable to say, what I’ve read simply didn’t meet me where I was living at the time I encountered the writing.

Dotted

Sometimes, children’s stories contain more inspiring and true material than grown-up books.  Case in point:  Max Lucado’s book You Are Special, about the Wemmicks — beings made of wood by Eli, the craftsman.  Listen in to a description of the scene in the village:punchinello

The pretty ones, those with smooth wood and fine paint, always got stars. But if the wood was rough or the paint chipped, the Wemmicks gave dots. . . .

Some Wemmicks had stars all over them!  Every time they got a star, it made them feel so good! . . .

Others, though, could do little.  They got dots.

Punchinello was one of these.  He tried to jump high like the others, but he always fell.  And when he fell, the others would gather around and give him dots.  Sometimes when he fell, his wood got scratched, so that people would give him more dots.

Then when he would try to explain why he felt, he would say something silly, and the Wemmicks would give him more dots.

After a while, he had so many dots that he didn’t want to go outside.  He was afraid he would do something dumb such as forget his hat or step in the water, and then people would give him another dot.  In fact, he had so many gray dots that some people would come up and give him one for no reason at all.

Yeah, I read this book to my son the other day.  Yeah, I felt it ended up being more for me than for him.

Are you feeling likedots Punchinello, in a depressingly grown-up, senselessly dotted sense?  Me, too.

Do you have a Father like Eli?  A Father who “doesn’t care what the other Wemmicks think”?  A Father who says I matter because I am His?

Me, too.  (I’m just not sure how or where to go visit Him right now.)

 

Proskuneo and latreian (3)

I’m thinking still about worship and its Koine Greek antecedent word-concepts.  From Roy Lanier of yesteryear, fast forward a few years.  [This post continues thoughts from two days ago.]

Max Lucado once exhorted, “Live your liturgy.”¹  In reading that, the high-church liturgists may feel validated, and we all may feel somewhat justified in continuing our patterns when we read Lucado’s words.  After all, pretty much all of us have liturgies.  Yet I think the point was that discipleship through the week is also significant.  If we could be more consistent, things would be better.  Here’s my extrapolation on Lucado’s admonition:

Achtung!

If you’re going to do worship in Q style, live in that style.  Or if you worship in Z style or Y style, live in that style.

You might think there would be more connection between life and the unimportant (in some cases, silly) liturgies pretty much all of us experience on a weekly basis.  From mountain church to sea-level church to rolling-hills church — it doesn’t matter how “high” or “low” your tradition is — our corporate patterns are, way too often, just so much fluff.

And we fiddle while Rome burns.  Our lives are pathetic.  We really don’t live “up to snuff” (that’s redneck for “consistent with standards”) with any of our would-be-transformative Sunday “worship” activities.

Something needs to be re-calibrated.  We could either cease trying to engage in so-called worship activities, or we could try to bring the other 117.5 waking hours a week into harmony.

Essentially, some cognitive consonance in this sphere would be nice — and highly advisable from the eternal perspective.

Now, to move from the inspirational-yet-human to the specifically God-breathed . . .

Romans 12 tends to come up in worship discussions among enlightened Christian-types.  Romans 12, however, does not deal with worship, strictly speaking.  The noun here is not “proskuneo.”  It’s “latreian,” a cognate of “latreuo” which speaks of sacrificial ministry (think animal sacrifice, then transfer that to the NC).  The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (“Little Kittel”) reports these bits:

  • latreian is used 9x in the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament) and “refers generally to cultic worship”
  • a connection exists with OT priestly service and douleuein (general service)
  • in the ancient Philo’s writings, this word is said to “embrace the ministry of virtue and spiritual service to God” — wonder if the oft-cited Philo is why some English versions translated “logiken” as “spiritual”?

Etymologically related to the above, the root latron means, roughly, “to work for reward” and “to serve.”  This, friends, is an idea quite distinct from the meaning carried in the word proskuneo, which means “kiss toward.”   Proskuneo connotes bowing, obeisance, and reverential homage shown toward another, greater being.

The expression in Rom. 12:1 is logiken latreian; logiken is a relatively uncommon biblical word and could be said to have spawned our word “logical.”  Latreian is also uncommon in this particular form.  Its basic meaning is “service rendered for hire, ministration,” and it further is said to be related to the likes of Levitical priestly service.

Robertson’s Word Pictures  gives this further insight:

Which is your reasonable service (ten logiken humon latreian). “Your rational (spiritual) service (worship).” For latreia, see on Romans 9:4 . Logiko is from logo, reason. The phrase means here “worship rendered by the reason (or soul).”

I think Robertson may be affected by church tradition here in linking “service” with “worship”; I do not not see anything directly vertical, i.e., human-to-God, in Rom. 12:1.  I rather think Paul is suggesting that offering ourselves becomes, rationally (or even figuratively?) speaking, the New equivalent of Old priestly service.  Logiken ≈ logical ≈ rational, and latreian ≈ horizontal service, not vertical worship.  Assuming I’m right, this verse is not about worship per se but is about Christian living more generally.  Worship, after all, was never halted, but animal sacrifices were.

Paul is saying, I am convinced, that when we offer our whole selves to God, the resulting “sacrifice,” so to speak, becomes the equivalent of the priestly service that is no longer a part of how we approach God.

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¹ Here, although I highly doubt Lucado had this level of zing in mind when he wrote his phrase, I’ll acknowledge my bias against the high church.  The disconnect between corporate worship and life is exaggerated when the corporate worship is in a dead language.

By the way, the term “high church” is inherently questionable, as though other ways and means exist on a lower, undignified plane.  This reminds me of another inherently questionable term:  “Reformed.”  Yeah, I know that things needed drastic reforming in the time of Luther and Calvin, but the use of “reformed” today seems to imply a progress, a development, a reformation that no longer reflects the situation.  Today, there is not just one church institution that is reforming, or that needs reforming.  We all need reforming — certainly including the “Reformed” ones — and many other groups at least make efforts at reforming along the way.

Proskuneo

So many ideas on worship, so little biblical foundation. . . .

Principles of equity, academic fairness, and logic would seem to dictate that I stay out of the fray this time around:  although I had pointed a couple of toes down a worship path a few weeks ago, the toes got stubbed, and here I am again.  Here I am to struggle and wish, but not to worship very much.

Oh, the facts that demand worship remain.  For instance:  God is, God created, and God is all-glorious and majestic.  God divested Himself of deity in some sense to be with Us in the person of Jesus, the Anointed One.  These realities and others call me to worship, but I’m faced with deafness to said call:  I don’t worship as I could, or should.

Acknowledging this stark shortcoming, I’ll still dare to offer some thoughts about worship, although without a lot of current, personal praxis to back it up in this phase of life.  My hope is that this will help in clarifying our understandings and practices.

“What does worship mean to you?”  I’ve asked that in groups before, and will again, but it was more with the idea of getting our inadequate ideas on the table than with the hope of some marvelous amalgamation of stunning truth.  I uncovered a variety of responses to the question “what is worship to you?”:

  1. “People have said that even the birds worship God just by flying around and building nests and taking care of their babies.”  Umm, no.
  2. “Giving yourself fully over to God, and receiving Him in return.”  Nope.  This is important, but  it is not worship.
  3. “Giving more than begging or receiving is worship.  Sharing Knowledge.  Sharing service.  Sharing techniques to art of life.  Sprinkle the dust of joy.”  Not a chance.  This is like saying playing basketball is putting silverware in a drawer, changing a tire, tying your Converse shoelace, shooting a 3-pointer, hitting a home run, sleeping, and going to counseling.  There’s a morsel of truth there, but it’s surrounded by things that are only (barely?) related.
  4. Well, of course, “It’s not just the songs.”  Yeah, yeah.  We’ve heard this before, yet most of us continue to live hypocritically in this respect.  We’re still desperate to dovetail the musical endings and beginnings as in radio, eradicating the “dead space.”
  5. “Worship is bowing/kneeling before someone, making them the center of your existence and groveling at their feet. Honoring means accepting someone/thing as being up there in status and respecting them, but not drooling all over them and giving them useless tokens.”  Now we’re getting somewhere.  There is some very good material here!

When some people talk about worship experiences, their expressed longings seem, vacuously, to anticipate a divine, dove-like descent — analogous to what John saw at the immersion of Jesus.  Drooling and perfunctory token-giving, begone.  But bow and kneel (sometimes, physically!), and know that the One you are worshipping is by nature above all.  This is a good picture of worship.

But can God glorify Himself through a completely secular activity, as expressed in #1 or #3 above?  Of course.  But will He?  I’ll keep waiting for that to happen in any observable way . . . but without half the elpis (hope) that I have in the second coming or in my own ultimate dwelling place.

Worship, strictly speaking (and I do like to speak strictly, clearly), does not consist in serving others.  Mowing the lawn and washing the dishes and even diapering an infant do not constitute worship.  These things are horizontal; they are service actions that can become, metonymically, worship.  Worship is inherently a vertical attitude and/or action.  It is the demeanor and/or the adoring, reverent expression of a subservient one toward a greater one.

To be continued . . .

Communion Meditation (a) 1/15/2012: Your Love

From a song inspired by a speech (and later, a book) given by Max Lucado:

Your love is faithful, pure, and true —
Reaching for me, no matter what I do.
I will not ever comprehend
How You can love Your children to the end.

Your love is constant ev’ry day.
Here in Your arms, no need to run away.
You love me just the way I am.
(But) all of my sin is taken by the Lamb!

BRIDGE:
Your love does not come and go;
Your love will never ebb and flow.

CHORUS:
And you love me far, far too much just to leave me here where I am.
You want me to be just like Jesus.

“Your Love,” (c) 1997 Brian Casey/Encounter Music

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Jesus loved in the purest, most radical way.  And that way was not the way of acceptance with no cost.  His way was the way of astounding grace that shows, first, unconditional acceptance and charity … and then, Jesus’ way of grace and truth inspires in the pure recipients of the love the most heart-filled, devoted followership.  We are compelled by His life and by His sacrifice to be His disciples—1) to requite His love, and 2) to follow Him.  What we’re about to do in the “Lord’s Supper” is one very important way we can say “My Jesus, I Love Thee, and “More Love to Thee, O Christ.”

LLL

Post # 665

An LLL today:  a Lucadoism about Living Liturgically . . . Max Lucado once wrote, in a list of bits of advice, “Live your liturgy.”

I’m not sure what he meant by that, but I think I’d probably affirm the idea.

“Liturgy” (derived at some point from the Greek leitourgeia, which denotes temple activities and such) is sometimes thought of as the stuff that comes from the so-called “church year” and responsorial procedures and such.  I think of it as broader than that and would like to call into question all of us who sing and pray and read and recite (yes, recite—oh, those horribly drab, perfunctory recitations) things and then pretty much forget about them for the rest of the day and week.

I think this is one reason I like being with other Christians on Sunday evening.  It’s a little closer to the rest of the week, and it’s just a teensy bit more likely, therefore, that I might actually remember something we shared so that I can live it out.

Consistent voices

Christendom has its share of struggles and scourges. There’s truly a lot to criticize (although not as much as the news media appears to believe).

But I find in contemporary Christian culture that there have been some consistent voices … voices that have spoken for more than a decade and have not succumbed to scandal. Voices whose messages have been sound and inspirational. No person should be idolized, and I’m no groupie, but I have retained a certain admiration for some of these folks and thought it would be worthwhile to mention them. Honor to whom honor is due. . . .

  • Twila Paris, worship songwriter (and, to a lesser extent, a singer) whose contemporary anthems and God-oriented songs have moved many for more than two decades
  • Michael Card, songwriter (and, again, to a lesser extent, a singer) who has a particular gift with reducing large-scope biblical messages into coherent, poignant song lyrics
  • Michael W. Smith, the now-legendary Christian songwriter who has an absolutely horrible voice but whom I find to have both a creative gift and a humble heart
  • Fernando Ortega, singer-songwriter whose earthy lyrics are as beautiful as they are Godly
  • Bob Kauflin, known primarily a songwriter for Glad and other groups, but who also does steady, local church work in Maryland (his “I Stand In Awe,” by the way, has been corruptly dumbed-down by many a cappella churches)
  • Rich Mullins, who perished while driving in the Heartland some 10-or-so years ago, whose songs and mission with Native Americans were equally well-conceived
  • Graham Kendrick, a British songwriter who’s been “around,” having been part of the British worship renewal that began more than 20 years ago
  • Max Lucado, whose writings have probably touched millions … I haven’t kept up with the last 5 or 6 books but have been inspired many times in the past
  • and I should surely name Billy Graham, despite my disagreements with his soteriology … the man had/has character

I claim no personal knowledge of these people’s lives but have never heard them ill spoken of, and have a fair amount of experience with many of their works through the years. They seem sincerely enagaged in Kingdom work to me.

Would anyone care to add to the list?