Sunday, November 22, 2009

RE: Can You Say,"Liturgy?" Part 2

Last week I proposed to you a new (maybe more accurately, a novel) definition of the term “liturgy.” A Christian liturgy is a communal sacred activity whereby the participants are shaped and formed in godliness. Now, this could take pages to unpack, but allow me to simply state a few of my presuppositions.

Let me remind you of the  three main ingredients to this definition. First, my definition of liturgy begins with the adjective, “Christian” as a principal modifier. Everything we do (or may I now add, refrain from doing) shapes our lives and our loves. Do your choices have a distinctively “Christian” flavor to them? Second, I do not see sacred liturgy is not a private act but as a communal one. Liturgically speaking, our lives are most highly impacted as we touch one another, collide into one another, and graciously offer care for one another’s well-being (see 1 John 1:7 for a wonderful one verse homily of corporate Christianity). Third, the most obvious given is that liturgies shape and form us, the participants.


Let me give you an example. This weekend, the Society of Biblical Literature is holding its annual meetings, where thousands of Bible scholars throughout the world converge in one location. Our overt task is to present papers and to work in hundreds of forums to learn more about Jesus. But a secondary agenda is to network with one another, exchange ideas (and a few resumes), and to fellowship over meals and coffee. There is a true sense of “liturgy” about this event; some Christian some not so Christian. First, the Christian. In a standing room only worship service Sunday Morning, Daniel Block (OT scholar at Wheaton College) reminded us all of what it means to revere and personally honor the name of the Lord. Powerfully, we were charged not only to be teachers of the Biblical word but to profoundly live out the Word before the community were are entrusted to live among. He closed with the following passage:

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Col 3:16-17 NIV).

Now, the non-Christian aspect of liturgy. At some presentations, biblical scholars are simply jerks. Their presentation style can be self-inflating and condescending to opposing views. Often, some folks sit in the audience, typing away on their computer to the neglect of the presenter and to the detriment of the surrounding audience. The worst example was during a paper being delivered by our own Bart Bruehler. Someone in the back of the room answered a cell call and continued in conversation until what I would call a “presentation bouncer” tossed him out. Thus, the way we operate in a liturgical setting is certainly a demonstration of the shaping which the Holy Spirit has accomplished in our lives.

So, may I ask you a parallel personal question? In a liturgical situation which we may call a classroom, “Are you letting Jesus shine?” Do you Facebook while your professor presents? Do you practice actions which sanctify or de-consecrate the classroom? In chapel, are the people around you being detracted from worship because of the light on your phone during texting? Or may I ask you to risk all for the Kingdom and actually act like a “bouncer” and asking someone not to hinder the “liturgical moment” and stop texting!


In a moment when You are speaking to us or thru us

May the liturgical moment we cooperate within be another wonderful means of grace

May the sacred time, the sacred place, and the sanctifying effect of your corporate body reveal Your Glory on earth.

May our humanity and our shortcomings not quench the Spirit of Christ.



Now, Go with God



Almost all the Bible Department at Indiana Wesleyan University is here at the SBL conference. You would be so proud. Dr. Ken Schenck presided at one session and will present a paper at another. Dr. Steve Lennox presented at a Psalms session. Dr. Bart Bruehler will present two papers this weekend. An IWU alumni Alicia Myers (PhD student @ Baylor doing her dissertation on the Gospel of John). 


Monday, November 16, 2009

Can You Say,"Liturgy?"

When I say the word, “Liturgy” what comes to your mind? Maybe you envision a service in an Episcopal or Catholic Church where you see yourself participating in a service passively (i.e., being lead by an ordained clergy thru written prayers) rather than actively engaging in worship, such as in Chapel at IWU.

But could I give you a different perspective on the “liturgies” so you may see them in a whole new light. My definition of liturgy would be this: a Christian liturgy is a communal sacred activity whereby the participants are shaped and formed in godliness. Now, this could take pages to unpack, but allow me to simply state a few of my presuppositions.


First, I begin my definition of liturgy with the adjective, “Christian” as a principal modifier. There are all kinds of liturgies that we are involved in that alter our life and loves. Some are more overt Christian (Chapel MWF) others are more subtly secular (watching 8 hours of NFL football on Sunday). Notice in Romans 12:1-2 Paul writes,

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.


Paul talks about our lives being affected in one of two ways, conformed (by the liturgical practices) of this world or transformed (by the Christian liturgies) which leads to the renewal of your mind. Thus, I would argue that there are practices in your life that serve as liturgies for your good or for your ill. (More on this later.)


Second, I do not see sacred liturgy is not a private act but as a communal one. Yes, you can recite the Apostles’ Creed alone or pray in isolation or even sing a hymn privately. But I would see these privatized acts as more devotional in aspect. Spiritual formation certainly, but it may be limited in its affective value because it does not place you in a setting where you are making a public declaration of your faith. Moreover, praying the Lord’s Prayer is liturgical in its origin. Listen to the pronouns, “Our Father who is in heaven...give us this day our daily bread…forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us…lead us not into temptation…but deliver us from evil.” All the pronouns are plural. So, as we pray this prayer with sincerity it assumes a public audience whereby we offer forgiveness in order to receive it. Thus, liturgy can be an authentic public confession of forgiveness shaping us together into the Body of Christ or an announcement of a refusal to listen to the Sprit of Christ begging you to release the hurt of past sins done against you. A privatized faith would rob the Body of Christ of the corporate formation it could give. 

Third, liturgies can and do deeply shape and form the participants. Yes, I am certain that listening to a sermon on your iPod “informs” your mind and makes for sound cognitive growth. But when I speak of liturgy, I am leaning more towards its affective value upon a person holistically. As we experience well thought out liturgies, they do much more than “inform” our mind but wondrously “form” our hearts and ultimately “transform” our loves to adopt those of our Trinitarian Lord. 

So maybe I will ask the question this way. What liturgies play a shaping role in your life today? Here is the hard question which we will ponder further next week; as the liturgies that shape your life and loves the most, Christian or secular?

[To help with this soul-searching, I encourage you to delve into Dr. James K. A. Smith’s lecture in the PPAC @ 4pm Thursday Nov 19th for this semester’s Athens and Jerusalem Seminar lecture. Plus Dr. Jamie Smith will be speaking in the Thursday evening Chapel. His new book entitled Desiring the Kingdom explores the topic of how liturgy informs all that we do and love.]


Now, Go with God


Sunday, November 8, 2009

I Declare this "Praise Week"

A Go with God moment.

I declare this Praise Week for the School of Theology and Ministry.

Now, in honor of such a declaration, a word study on “praise” would be a wonderful endeavor. But rather than showing myself to be a Greek or Hebrew geek, can I list just a few verses that have struck me this week from Psalm 22. You know, the Psalm that Jesus quotes from the cross as His own death approaches.

My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? Why are you so far away when I groan for help?

Every day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer. Every night you hear my voice, but I find no relief.

Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.

In the midst of what appears as life at its worst; Jesus teaches us that praise should resound from our lips since it is the very place within which the Lord resides. Read the rest of Psalm 22 and you will discover that this tragic story is utterly transformed into a cacophony of praise. Psalm 22:22-24 reads like a completely different story

I will declare your name to my brothers; in the congregation I will praise you.

You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor him! Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!

For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.

May I say simply, “Appearances can be deceiving.” Life may look dim and dark when you can only see thru your physical eyes. Moreover, you probably are missing a large part of the overall story if your trust only what you can see. We need to develop “eyes of faith” and a life of perseverance. For example, throughout the Gospels Jesus taught that His death was only the prologue to Easter and His resurrection. Thus, Jesus’ words from the cross should not be reduced to a faithless cry of dereliction but they are the prophetic announcement of God’s ultimate victory for us all. He is proclaiming Praise to all the world with His last breath. 


So, as a School of Theology and Ministry, I declare this as Praise Week. I want you to tell others your words of praise for who the Lord is and what He is doing for you. I’ll start. Below is part of an email I sent to “Umf” Jim Lo last Thursday morning. He asked me if I was doing alright; because he know I was struggling:

Yes, there seems to been a real heaviness on me these days. I have suffered from severe headaches for the last 10 days. So much so that for the first time in 10 years I stayed home on Monday and dismissed my class. But even that did not seem to help. It only prolonged an already painful weekend into a blue Monday. But Wednesday afternoon Jennie Telfer and Michele Perry (Wed chapel speaker) stopped by my office and the three of us talked for quite a while. It was a deep and significant conversation on many levels. As they prepared to leave, they asked how they could pray for me. So I told them specifically about my headaches and my inability to shake them. Then they prayed. It was a wonderful and beautiful time with the Lord. Since then my pain is gone. PTL. But the best part is that I can now think more clearly than I have in quite some time. And to use a strange metaphor, “Finally, I have been able to breathe again” and God seems to be filling my lungs with His breath.


Now, here is my assignment to each of you.

1.      Tell your praise to someone else. Do not keep it to yourself. Let’s make a contagious effort where declare that God is “enthroned on the praises of His people.”

2.      Send a brief note of praise to and she will begin to have them scrolling on our computer screens in the CM Building so your prase can touch our entire school. Do not hesitate but pass the word, “Praise” is our marching orders this week. 


Now I will start.

Praise # 1: Just this weekend I heard a wonderful praise. It came from two former IWU students, Daniel and Stephenie (Beutler) Freemyer (both ’06 grads). Daniel went on to Duke Divinity school (MDiv ’09). They just paid off their entire grad school bill this week. They have made huge personal sacrifices to see this become a reality in their lives. I Praise the Lord for how the Lord will use them even more profoundly in ministry because of being debt-free.



Allow us to realize that momentary hardships are merely precursers to lives of praise.

Give us eyes to conceive of Your Kindgom,

Eyes to perceive Your Glory,

Most of all, may we have voices to reveal praises in Your Name.



I usually end with the words, “Go with God.”

Not today, I ask you to go to your computer and send a note of praise; student, alumni, or merely a reader of this note; “let’s just praise the Lord.”