Irritated with Worship Songs

Occasionally there comes an article that I wish I had written. Such is this rant about worship music. The author pinpoints so many faults in current worship music that one is moved to return to exclusive psalmody.

Two examples which have bothered me for some time are these:

2. It’s so repetitive. I mean, come on, how many times can you repeat “His steadfast love endures forever” before you start thinking the song is going to go on forever? Examples: here and here.

4. There might be too much emphasis on too intimate a relationship with God, using first-person singular pronouns like “me” and “I” or second-person pronouns like “you” instead of words like “we” and “God”. This fosters a spirit of individualism, and it generates an atmosphere of religious euphoria rather than actual worship of God. Worship should be about God, not about us. Or what about the ones that use physical language to describe God and our relationship with him? Can you really stomach the idea of tasting God?

Read the whole here. My link to this was here.

[Note: in glancing at the comments on the initial post, I realize, again, that some of us are ‘irony-challenged’. Read the whole and you will (should?) get it!]


This is the pastoral prayer from the worship service of Covenant Presbyterian Church this past Sunday, prayers which, as we have explained, are centered in a reflection upon the names of God.


Pastoral PrayerCovenant Presbyterian Church, Oviedo, Florida
Jon Boardman

Yahweh / Jehovah

The name most frequently used in the Old Testament is Jehovah. When the Hebrew heard or read this name, it struck fear, reverence, and humility in them; therefore, out of respect, they often just referred to Jehovah as “the Name.” This tradition continued in the English Bible and the word LORD (in all caps) is used instead of Jehovah.

This name is so essential to God’s people because when Moses spoke with God at the burning bush as to who was sending him to the Israelites, God said: “I am Who I am … Jehovah, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent you. This is my name forever, and this is My memorial-name to all generations.” (Ex. 3:13-15).

God’s people have given memorial and reverence to this name, and for good reason. The reality behind the name is that God is self-existent; he is the beginning and the end; he is the eternal I Am; he is unchangeable; and he is faithful. Please join with me as we approach Jehovah with reverence in prayer.

O Sovereign God, Lord Jehovah.

The Scriptures attest to You as being the Alpha and the Omega, the eternal I Am, and the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Our catechism attests to You as being infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in Your being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.

Indeed, You are Jehovah.

We need to be reminded of Your character whenever we face the uncertainties of life.

May Your name give us confidence in this world of uneasiness and instability.

When we worry about whether a spouse, parent, or child may die, whether our health may fail, whether our job may be taken from us, or whether others may forsake us, we have full assurance that You are everything and anything we will ever need.

Our trust is in You, and we humbly come to You with our needs.

This morning we pray for those whose lives feel uncertain due to loss.

You have called Penni’s mother home to Yourself.

We ask that you embrace Penni and her family with Your grace.

Comfort them and grant them closure as they memorialize the life of Ruth Reid.

We also ask that you continue to comfort the Samuels, Nuwayhids, and others in our midst who are grieving the loss of a loved one.

We pray for those whose lives are uncertain due to health.

We lift up Lisa Whitener as she struggles with the long battle of MS.

Heal her of the blood clot and grant her strength to live for You.

We pray for endurance and strength for her family as well.

For Jim, Joseph, Rod’s grandson Scott, and other loved ones who fight cancer daily, we ask for your healing and mercy.

Grant them all the assurance of Your presence and promises to be with them forever.

We pray for those whose lives are uncertain due to finances.

As our Provider, we ask that You grant them employment and the resources to live wisely and restfully.

We pray for those whose lives are uncertain due to the physical and spiritual threats they face on a daily basis.

Specifically, we pray for our loved ones serving in the military and who face the threat of death on the field of battle.

Reassure them of Your presence to be with them always, never to forsake them.

We pray for our foreign missionaries:
Daniel and Lenah Kithongo,
Joseph and Phoebe Mutei,
Imbumi and Martha Makuku,
Victor and Teresa Cruz (planting churches in Morelos, Mexico), and
Chuck and Alisha Donet (with SIL).

We pray also for our domestic missionaries:
Carol Arnold (with Equipping Pastors International),
David and Holly Clow (with Campus Crusade for Christ),
Mike Dumas (with Good News Jail & Prison Ministries),
Flip and Connie Amon (with Campus Crusade for Christ).

And we pray for our evangelists:
John Barros and
John Jones.

We pray that all these men and women would find rest in You as they face various threats and obstacles in their ministries.

Protect them from evil and multiply their efforts in extending Your rule in this world.

LORD, we may feel uncertain about so many things in life, but we are certain of who You are, the great I Am.

You are the One who has blessed us with all the eternal blessings from heaven through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

So we ask for your blessings on our children.

We ask for your blessing on the Dumas family as they prepare for the birth of their daughter.

We ask for your blessing on your church as we seek to live our our lives here in Oviedo.

May we all return to You the blessings You have given to us.

We have confidence that You will complete the good work that You have started.

We pray in the name above all names,

Jehovah and our Lord Jesus Christ.


Thoughts on Communion

Helpful to me in understanding the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is an image I first heard articulated by John Calvin in which he says in effect that as we take bread and wine into our bodies, the believer in that act is through the mouth of faith taking Jesus to himself. As the bread and wine represent the common food of everyday life which feeds and nourishes our bodies, so taking Christ to ourselves by faith not only represents a radical break from all other devotions, it is the way that we genuinely find strength for our faith and trust in him.

Expressing that much better than I are two Anglican sources I encountered this morning. The first is from the Anglican preacher John Stott and the second, quoted in a commentary by Anglican scholar F. F. Bruce, comes from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer.

Christians anticipating communion this coming Sunday could do well to reflect on these things.

“Just as it was not enough for the bread to be broken and the wine to be poured out, but they had to eat and drink, so it was not enough for him to die, but they had to appropriate the benefits of his death personally. The eating and drinking were, and still are, a vivid acted parable of receiving Christ as our crucified Savior and of feeding on him in our hearts by faith.” (John Stott, The Cross of Christ, pages 72-73)

“Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for you, and feed on him in your heart by faith with thanksgiving.” (Anglican Book of Common Prayer)


Each Sunday ruling elder Jon Boardman leads the congregation I pastor in a pastoral prayer, and has been doing so recently using the names of God as a guide. We have posted these so far here and here. This Sunday, his petition was directed by a consideration of God as our sovereign Lord.


Pastoral PrayerCovenant Presbyterian Church, Oviedo, Florida
Jon Boardman

Adonai – Sovereign or Lord (Master)

Another name used of God is Adonai. In fact the name Adonai is often paired with the name Yahweh, which Bible scholars translate Sovereign LORD.

The first time we come across Adonai is when the Sovereign LORD makes a covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15 – God promises Abraham an heir, land, and many other blessings. Later on in the Scriptures, in Psalm 71 verses 5 and 6, the Psalmist declares: “You have been my hope, O Sovereign LORD, my confidence since my youth. From birth I have relied on you; you brought me forth from my mother’s womb. I will ever praise you.” Here the Lord promises protection and deliverance.

Also in Isaiah 61 verse 1, Isaiah writes: “The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.” Here we have the promise of the Messiah. And, of course, Jesus read these words, as recorded in Luke 4:18, to initiate his ministry and to declare the fulfillment of these words in himself.

In all of these cases, God’s people acknowledged Adonai as the Master of their fates and of all areas of their lives. As God’s people, Jesus is our Lord and our Master. Let us humble ourselves before Him this morning in prayer.

O Sovereign LORD,

there are those who would have us to believe that we are masters of our own fate, and all too often we live as if this were the case.

Forgive us, Lord, for living as if we were lords over life.

We also confess that too often we accept You as Savior but fail to submit to You as Lord.

We acknowledge that You call us to submit every area of our lives to You.

We also acknowledge how difficult this is for us.

You want us to submit our finances, our marriages, our relationships, our employment, our materials, our children, our dreams, our entertainment, our desires, and our thoughts to You.

Help us to see that You have total possession of us and, therefore, we can have total submission to You; we know You are trustworthy.

We also know that you are a good master, one whose yoke is easy and burden is light. Thank you for giving rest to our souls.

So this morning, we submit to You, Lord.

We ask that your sovereign hand lead and direct us in our families, our church, our communities, and our country.

We pray for our families this morning.

For those who are grieving the loss of their loved ones like Anita Samuels and the Nuwayhids, give them comfort.

For those who are fighting various battles in life in the form of diseases, disorders, and cancers like Penni’s mother, Jim Fitzgerald, Lisa Whitener, Joseph Nuwayhid, and Rod Whited’s grandson, give them peace and endurance through this time.

We pray for Your mercy; give rest to the weary.

For those who are apart from us due to work or travel like Susan Culbreath, the Holts, Thomas McFadden, Josiah Katumu, Justin Frame, and others unnamed but known to you, give them and those who are apart from them Your protection and the assurance of Your presence and grace.

And for those in our midst with great expectations for children, for a spouse, for a job, for acceptance, and/or for material or spiritual blessings, we ask that, in Your sovereign mercy, You would grant the desires of their hearts so as to please You.

We also pray for our church family.

We pray for your direction as to a place of worship in the fall.

We pray for our pastors, elders, deacons, and staff that Your wisdom, through prayer, would govern all decisions made in the church.

We pray for our missionaries and evangelists seeking to lead others to You, so that every knee would bow to the name of Christ.

We pray for our volunteers, our worship team, and those involved in Christian education, and we ask that you draw them close to Your throne.

We also pray for Oviedo and the communities where You have placed us. Show us how to reach out to those in our midst and to transform these communities for the sake of Your kingdom.

Finally we pray for our country.

Despite the worries that many of us feel concerning environmental catastrophes, economic recessions, mounting debts, and wars overseas, we have the assurance of knowing that You are the Sovereign Lord and our hope comes from You.

We pray that our nation, along with all nations of the earth, would surrender to You and give You the honor due to Your Name. Lord,

You have the words of eternal life. For that we are at rest.

We pray in the name of Jesus, our Lord.


New Calvinism

I think it was Mark Driscoll who once said that the New Calvinists are just like the Old Calvinists, just nicer. I’ll leave that without comment other than to say that if that is true, then I want to be a New Calvinist.

The Orlando Sentinel took notice of the New Calvinism in a lead story Sunday profiling one of the movement’s well-known old proponents. R. C. Sproul is the teaching pastor and clearly the face of Sanford, Florida’s St. Andrew’s Chapel.

The article articulates in positive tones St. Andrew’s place and vision, and in so doing speaks appreciatively of Rev. Sproul’s clear influence upon modern American theological thinking. R. C. Sproul has been a steady voice articulating a reformational orthodoxy during a period of theological experimentation. He has been used by God not only to defend but also to lend credibility to Reformed thinking. And he has done so while at the same time avoiding the moral traps that have ensnared so many who rise to prominence.

His has been a remarkable career which has blessed many, myself included. It is good to see the front page of a large secular newspaper acknowledge that not all of those shaping the cultural landscape sit in congress or swing a putter.

Nevertheless, while the article rightly connects Sproul with the current renaissance of Reformed thinking, it would be wrong to suggest, as the article could be read to suggest, that Sproul defines the borders of that renaissance. Calvinism does not exclusively reside in a St. Andrew’s can.

The beauty of Calvinism which has drawn many to it is its hearty embracing of the centrality of God in all things, including salvation. God’s holiness, his sovereignty, his grace, his good and remarkable providence, these things all find careful and comforting prominence among those who extol what I call a Big God theology. But what one might not know from the article is that these things are finding prominence not only in the neo-gothic traditionalism of St. Andrews, but as well from pulpits set on stages in the midst of the trappings of worship bands.

In fact, surprising to some would be the fact that those very worship bands, seemingly so far removed from the reserve of a St. Andrew’s type experience, are leading people to give glory to God for his holiness and his sovereignty, a holiness and a sovereignty many first learned from R. C. Sproul.

Though Rev. Sproul would not be interviewed for the article, a spokesman of his Ligonier Ministries is reported to be ‘dismissive’ of churches which have both ‘traditional’ and ‘contemporary’ services. I know what it is like to be taken out of context, so I certainly hope that the brothers at Ligonier and St. Andrews are not dismissive or scornful of any other ‘container’ in which God-centered worship might appear.

What is wonderfully ironic is that this same solid Calvinism is emerging from worship services like that at St. Andrews as well as those which the spokesmen of St. Andrews might characterize as ‘pep rallies’. And if one probes, one might find that there is a God-saturated passion and vigorous biblical methodology motivating those churches every bit as much as that motivating the traditionalism at St. Andrews. All of it flowing from the theology so well championed by good men like Rev. Sproul.

How to Worship

Geoff Henderson was my associate in Bradenton for four years or so. I wish I could claim that the wisdom he now reflects was the result of what I poured into him. I could claim that, but it would be a lie.

Geoff recently posted on his blog a warning that we not make an idol of good preaching. I’m impressed with his reflections.

I encourage you to read both his installments, here and here. There is some good counsel here.

I’m Not a Geek

I’m not a geek. Or a nerd. (I’ve tried to discover from my daughters what the difference is. I’m still not sure.)

I played a friend a couple games of chess the other day, and we attempted to assure each other as we sat at Lov-a-Da Coffee that though we were playing chess, in a cafe, with a chess clock, in the middle of the day, and taking it quite seriously, we were not nerds.

Or geeks.

Or whatever.

We figured that a chess geek would be a guy who studied chess strategy and played on-line and stuff. We were not guilty of THOSE infractions. And only a true geek would read a book about chess.

Well, a year or so ago I read a book called The Immortal Game: A History of Chess
by David Shenk. (I’m a sucker for sub-titles, which often give more insight into what a book is about than the title itself. This one is “Or how 32 carved pieces on a board illuminated our understanding of war, art, science, and the human brain.” How can one resist THAT?)

Anyway, I loved every page of it. I even re-created what this book claims is the greatest chess game ever played. In that, I was pushing geekdom.

This is a book about the origins of chess (shrouded in mystery, but very ancient), the mathematics of chess (10 to the 120th power or, 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 possible games), and, most interestingly, the people of chess.

One example of the latter will suffice:

The artist Marcel Duchamp stunned and changed the art world in the early 20th century by, among other things, displaying and signing and calling it art, a urinal. He mounted a postcard image of the Mona Lisa altered with a mustache and goatee. He grew famous doing it.

But after age 30, he produced almost no art. Chess had become his obsession.

How great an obsession?

Even true love could not moderate his fixation. In 1927 Duchamp married Lydia Sarazin-lavassor, a young heiress. On their honeymoon he spent the entire week studying chess problems. Infuriated, his bride plotted her revenge. When Duchamp finally drifted off to sleep late one night, Lydia glued all of the pieces to the board.

They were divorced three months later.

That, my non-geek friend and I assured one another, was not us.

We played another game.

Evangelistic Worship

Fifteen years ago, I would have chafed at the title of this post. Worship is not evangelistic; it is for Christians.

But that was then. That which once chafed I now embrace.

To practice public worship in a way comprehensible to the non-Christian and at the same time in a way that honors the Christian need to exalt his God is not only possible, but essential.

Tim Keller demonstrates and defends this in his helpful article “Evangelistic Worship”.

Bryan Chapell’s Christ-Centered Worship makes a similar case, a part of which is this:

“Healthy worship is one of the church’s most effective evangelism tools; thus, we cannot forget the unbeliever even as we focus on enabling believers rightly to honor their God.”

Not only is the content of worship an important apologetic to the non-Christian, but so is the joy, engagement, and passion of the believer in worship. If the Christian is engaged and invigorated by the worship, if the Christian finds it full of richness and meaning, and if the Christian is renewed at a deep level by the worship, that will be an attraction to the non-Christian who sees that.

If the Christian is significantly and sincerely touched by worship, he will long to bring others into that experience. One cannot expect a congregation to invite those they know to a service of worship they find empty of meaning. To seek to enrich worship for the Christian, even this has an evangelistic component.

Worship cannot help but be evangelistic.

An Important Book

The frequency and intensity of conflicts over worship wear us down and threaten to steal our joy. When men attempt to write on the subject, often their works carry a sharp polemic edge which is quickly dulled by the perceived need of addressing the controversies which swirl about.

Bryan Chapell is the president of Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri whose book Christ-Centered Worship avoids those pitfalls. He pushes hard to get to the heart of what worship is all about, and then from that vantage point begins to address secondary matters as their priority demands. This is a very important and a very wise book.

Some readers will be too quickly put off with the ‘textbookish’ feel of the early chapters. That would be a mistake. His argument needs careful attention.

He first walks us through an evaluation of the history of Christian worship. He does so to show that cutting across generations, denominations, and theologies, Christian worship has always been structured around a re-presenting of the gospel. God is revealed and praised; his people humbled, confess, and receive assurance; a redeemed people are instructed in his word and fed on his grace; and they are dismissed into the world refreshed and renewed in the gospel.

Worship has maintained its commonality throughout history because it is responding in every context to the same gospel. The heart of Dr. Chapell’s argument is then to show that this gospel is the biblical theme behind all worship in the whole Bible. Those who scan the Bible for precise liturgical forms err. What the Bible reveals is a gospel orientation to God which dictates every response to him. The gospel is the heart of worship.

If we are persuaded that it is the gospel that guides our liturgical construction, it is simply, then, another step for us to begin to face the difficult cultural and stylistic questions with the same gospel-centered thinking. Though Dr. Chapell’s position on certain issues is not disguised, what matters to him is that we begin to ask ourselves ‘gospel’ type questions in evaluating issues, and not simply questions of preference.

His approach cuts a sharp path to the heart of many questions. His challenge should shake us all up, no matter where in the discussions we find ourselves. Years of arguing can tend to polarize even the best of men. Chapell’s gospel-centered methodology should draw us all back to the table with repentance and humility.

Bryan Chapell is not only “an ‘ell of a chap” (sorry – that is the only way I’ve been able to remember how to spell his hame) but he is an imminently wise writer.

I long for the day when the polemics of worship will cease, when writers empty the vitriol from their pens and speakers lose the sarcasm in their speech and we can center our discussions of worship on the degree to which the gospel is re-presented, grasped, and understood. This book is a huge step in that direction.