A Worshiping Community: Monday Monologues, November 11, 2019 (podcast)

Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018
Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

This morning I will share a prayer and reflect on A Worshiping Community.

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Hear the words; Walk the steps; Experience the joy!

A Worshiping Community: Monday Monologues, November 11, 2019 (podcast)

Also see:

Monday Monologue On March 26, 2018 

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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

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A Worship Prayer

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Almighty God,

All majesty and power are yours for you touch our hearts and calm our nerves, refreshing life as none other.

Forgive our  sleepy eyes and irreverent attitudes, draw us closer to you with wonder and beauty and awe.

Thank you for blotting out the passions of the week. Lay bare our souls that we might be healed; excise wandering spirits that might never again be tormented.

In the power of your Holy Spirit, teach us to sing a new song, one of power and grace, that our joy may be complete and we more fully reflect your image to those around us.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

A Worship Prayer

Also see:

Prayer for Healthy Limits 

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A Worshiping Community

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Living in ChristObserve the Sabbath day, 

to keep it holy, 

as the LORD your God commanded you. 

(Deut 5:12)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The divine origin of the Sabbath is well-attested in both the Old and New Testaments. In the Old Testament, it is the only commandment that appears also in the creation account and it is also the longest commandment—an indicator of emphasis. In the New Testament, Jesus refers to himself as the Lord of the Sabbath (Matt 12:8; Luke 6:5) and performs several miracles specifically on the Sabbath. Why all this attention to the Sabbath?

A Biblical Understanding

A key to understanding Sabbath is found in Hebrews 4, which list four aspects of Sabbath rest: physical rest, weekly Sabbath rest, rest in the Promised Land, and heavenly rest—our return to the Garden of Eden.

Physical rest is underrated by many Christians. Jesus says: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matt 11:28) How are we to love God and love our neighbors when we are physically exhausted all the time? Sabbath rest allows us to build the physical, emotional, and spiritual capacity to experience God and to have compassion for our neighbors.

We see a clue to this interpretation of Sabbath when we compare the Exodus and Deuteronomy renderings of the Fourth Commandment. Deuteronomy adds the sentence: 

“You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.” (Deut 5:15)

Free people rest; slaves work. Sabbath rest is a symbol of our Christian freedom.

The Promised Land, promised rest (Ps 95:11), heaven, and the new Eden (Rev 22:2) all display and reinforce Sabbath imagery. The image of our Divine Shepherd is one who gives heavenly rest: “He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.” (Ps 23:2) Sadly, this poetic image of rest only seems to come up at funerals.

The 24-7 Culture

Postmodern culture refuses to rest. Sunday is fast becoming just another day where the malls are open and employers seldom offer overtime to those required to work it. So why does Moses insist on honoring the Sabbath?

Under penalty of death (Num 15:32-35), the prohibition on work on the Sabbath provided a cultural alternative to Pharaoh’s relentless pursuit of wealth. Brueggemann (2014, xiii-xiv) writes: YHWH governs as an alternative to Pharaoh, there the restfulness of YHWH effectively counters the restless anxiety of Pharaoh. Sabbath rest appears in the creation accounts because God balances work and rest. Egyptian gods, by contrast, never rested.

By honoring the Sabbath, Moses created room for the Hebrew people to reflect on their lives and on God, the gateway to keeping all the other commandments.

Sacrificial Worship

The link between rest and worship goes beyond occurring primarily on Sundays. Marva Dawn (1991, 1) observes: “To worship the Lord is—in the world’s eyes—a waste of time…the entire reason for our worship is that God deserves it.” To see this link, consider the ancient practice of offering burnt animal offerings in the temple rather than human sacrifices. Listen to the words of Aaron during the Golden Calf incident:

“And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” (Exod 32:4)

No doubt Aaron was simply practicing worship in a manner that he had learned in Egypt—worshiping a Golden Calf (think of the Wall Street Bull) could be thought of as an ancient form of the prosperity Gospel! 

Sacrificing a bull (or some other animal) on the alter could therefore be another way for a Jew to demonstrate his allegiance to God, not to foreign gods. Because many of these foreign gods were crafted in the form of animals, sacrificing those same animals on an altar would be a gutsy, in-your-face type of activity for a Jew.

For us today, devoting our Sundays to worshipping God is to pledge our lives to him alone and not to the god of 24-7. In the same way, donating money to the church’s work is to worship God, not the god of money. Jesus speaks plainly on this subject:

“No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” (Matt 6:24 KJV)⁠1

Because time and money are the reigning deities in our culture, offering God our time and money is our sincerest worship.


1 The King James Version transliterates the Greek (μαμωνᾷ), while other translations simple say money loosing the inference of deity more accurately that honors the text.


Brueggemann, Walter. 2014. Sabbath as Resistance: Saying NO to the Culture of Now. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

Dawn, Marva J. 1999. A Royal “Waste” of Time: The Splendor fo Worshipping God and Being Church for the World. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

A Worshipping Community

Also See:

Value Of Life

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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

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Dawn Widens Worship

Dawn_review_20191003Marva J. Dawn.[1] 1999. “A Royal ‘Waste’ of Time: The Splendor of Worshipping God and Being Church for the World. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

One of the great disappointments in seminary arose when I took my only worship class and the professor insisted on studying the worship requirements outlined in the Book of Order (the denomination governance manual). It was like taking a class in oil painting only to be given a canvas outlined in a paint-by-numbers schema. Nothing quenches the spirit (1 Thes 5:19) quicker than a programmatic church.


In her book, A Royal ‘Waste’ of Time, Marva Dawn writes:

“Surely one of the greatest problems of our times is that we have become so nonchalant about the Lord of the cosmos. Certainly, if we were more immersed in God’s splendor we would find ourselves thoroughly lost in wonder, love, and praise.” (7)

In theological terms, we have lost our sense of God’s transcendence and prefer a “buddy god” that we can hang with on Sunday morning and forget about the rest of the week—my paraphrase. Dawn goes on to say:

“My primary concern in various churches’ and denominations’ struggles over worship is that so many decisions are being based on criteria other than the most essential—namely that God be the Subject and Object, the Infinite Center, of our worship.” (8)

Having lost its center, Dawn observes:

“Church has been turned into a place, a building, a duty, an hour on Sunday mornings, rather than what we are as ‘those called out’ (ekklesia) by Christ into a way of being in the world to the glory of God for the sake of others.” (9)

When the church’s center is God, the musical forms, the liturgy, and the mode of dress simply recede in importance.

Background and Organization

Marva Dawn received her doctorate in Christian ethics at University of Notre Dame. At the time she wrote this book, she was a seminary professor and the author of numerous books. She has since retired. Dawn writes in six parts:

  1. For the World: Culture
  2. Worshiping God: The Splendor of Our Infinite Center
  3. Being Church: Building Community
  4. Being Church: Forming Character
  5. Being Church: Choices
  6. For the World: Challenges (vii-viii)

Each part begins with a sermon, accept for the introduction where the theme sermon follows the introduction. This sermonic focus loosens the integration of the book, giving it an eclectic form and feel.

Wasting Time

Dawn’s thematic sermon takes Colossians 3:12-17 as its text. A key phrase in this reading is: And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts” (Col 3:15 ESV). Dawn applies this text seriously when she reminds us:

“And it [worship] is a royal waste of time because we have to die to ourselves and our egos, our purposes and accomplishments to live now in God’s kingdom.” (14)

For Dawn, wasting time in worship is, in other words, sacrificial, our way of participating in Christ’s crucifixion. This is much like the Apostle Peter’s observation: He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Pet 2:24 ESV)

In my own view, I see worship as a way of participating in the divine rest in creation. We are where God intends us to be, something often hard to achieve in this life.


Marva J. Dawn’s A Royal ‘Waste’ of Time left a lasting impression on me in seminary as I came to see worship differently. In worship, we come to praise and adore God that we might become acquainted with the image we were created to reflect. True worship is more than the musical selections and their performance. Seminary students and pastors are best positioned to understand her detailed examination of contemporary worship controversies.


[1] http://MarvaDawn.org/about_Marva

Dawn Widens Worshi

Also See:

Bonhoeffer Introduces Christian Ethics, Part 1 

Top 10 Book Reviews Over the Past 12 Months

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/ID_2019


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Schmemann: Life is Sacramental

Review of Alexander Schmemann's For the :Life of the WorldAlexander Schmemann. 1973. For the Life of the World: Sacraments and Orthodoxy.Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

What makes the majesty of God real to you?

In a mechanistic, materialist culture, such as ours, how do you look past the physical world on Sundays to worship an immanent and transcendent God? Presumably, the causality works in reverse, but our true feelings are frequently revealed by our tepid response to calls for money, time, and effort. For postmodern people, the majesty of God is often illusive.


In his book,For the Life of the World, Alexander Schmemann writes:

“…the very purpose of this essay is to answer, if possible, the question: of what life do we speak, what life do we preach, proclaim, and announce when, as Christians, we confess that Christ died for the life of the world? What life is both motivation, and the beginning and the goal of Christian mission?”(11-12)

Schmemann sees Christians falling into two camps, those that focus on the spiritual life and theose that try to make life better through social justice (12-13). This is, however, is a false dichotomy. Schmenmann remarks—“Man is a hungry being. But he is also hungry for God.” (14)—and he sees his mission as:

“…to remind its readers that in Christ life—life in all its totality—was returned to man, given again as sacrament and communion, made Eucharist.” (20)

In the sacraments, both aspects of our hunger come together and become inseparable.


Schmemann writes in seven chapters preceded by a preface and followed by two more chapters occupying an appendix. The chapters are:

  1. “The Life of the World
  2. The Eucharist
  3. The Time of Mission
  4. Of Water and the Spirit
  5. The Mystery of Love
  6. Trampling Down Death by Death
  7. And Ye are Witnesses of these Things


  1. Worship in a Secular Age
  2. Sacrament and Symbol”(v)

Schmemann was a former dean and professor of liturgical theology at St. Vladmir’s Orthodox University in Crestwood, New York.[1]

Secularism as Tepid Faith

An important motif in his writing is the influence of secularism, which he views as a Christian heresy that has forgotten its roots and refuses to worship God. (7, 118) His emphasis on worship in defining secularism is interesting because the problem is not unbelief, but failing or refusing to recognize God’s majesty, a kind of tepid faith.

Schmemann’s attitude about faith is strikingly similar to that of James, who writes: Even the demons believe– and shudder!” (Jas 2:19 ESV) Or maybe the Apostle John when he writes about the Church at Laudicea: “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot!”(Rev. 3:15) Schmemann’s definition of secularism comes close to the definition of a nominal or cultural Christian. Still, Schmemann sees secularism as a religion having its own faith, eschatology, and ethics—the erosion of a sense of transcendence among Christians suggests that secularism also practices evangelism (99).

The Eucharist

Schmemann sees the Eucharist, which means thanksgiving, as a communal journey to join with Christ in heaven (28). He writes:

“When man stands before the throne of God, when he has fulfilled all that God has given him to fulfill, when all sins are forgiven, all joy restored, then there is nothing else for him to do but to give thanks.”(37)

Sign and sacrament are inseparable in this journey because he defines a sacrament as a “visible means of the invisible grace.”(135) Schmemann’s discussion of the Eucharist is his longest chapter and it spills over into his appendix.


Schmemann reminds us that baptism in the early church followed preparation that could continue for as long as three years, similar to today’s seminary studies. In the Orthodox tradition, the baptism service had three parts: “the exorcisms, the renunciation of Satan, and the confession of faith.”(69) While exorcism is no longer a part of most baptisms, renunciation of evil as an abstract concept and confession of faith is still part of most adult baptism services. (Theology and Worship Ministry Unit 1993, 406-409)

Schmemann continues:

“The exorcisms mean this: to face evil, to acknowledge its reality, to know its power, and to proclaim the power of God to destroy it.”(70-71)

While many postmodern American flitch at the idea of evil as something other than the absence of good, Schmemann was born in 1921 and experienced the horrors of World War II first hand in his native Estonia.


I first read Alexander Schmemann’s For the Life of the World as I took a worship class during seminary and gladly re-read it to prepare this review, in part, because I enjoyed his treatment of liturgy. This is a book written for seminarians, worship leaders, and pastors who may find it challenging to read. Nevertheless, it is worth the time and effort.


Theology and Worship Ministry Unit. 1993. Book of Common Worship. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.



Schmemann: Life is Sacramental

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Books, Films, and Ministry

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Chapter 13 of Revelation: What is True Worship?

CloudsBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

You are commanded … that when you hear … every kind of music, you are to fall down and worship the golden image that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. And whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace (Dan 3:4-6).

What is true worship? What is not?

In her book, Just Give Me Jesus, Anne Graham Lotz (1-2) recalls a story of a conversation that her mother, Ruth Graham, had with the former head of Scotland Yard. She suggested that he must have handled a lot of the counterfeit money over the years. He responded: On the contrary, Mrs. Graham, I spend all my time studying the genuine thing. That way, when I see a counterfeit, I can immediately detect it.

We see counterfeit worship in Revelations 13. The dragon, a sea monster, and an earth dwelling beast compose a counterfeit trinity complete with a counterfeit resurrection (vv 3-4). This is a blaspheming counterfeit (v 4). Everyone whose name is not written in the book of life worships this counterfeit trinity (vv. 4, 8, 12, and 16). Much like in Daniel 3, anyone not worshiping this counterfeit trinity ends up being persecuted (v 10) and this persecution includes loss of income (vv 16-18).

The Apostle John is lampooning Rome here. The seven heads in v 1 are widely interpreted as the seven hills overlooking the city of Rome. The Romans emperor cult had temples and statues all over the empire dedicated to emperor worship. The resurrection motif in v 3 is a parody of the myth that Emperor Nero was still alive even after he committed suicide in AD 68. Numerologists often interpret 666 as referring to Nero.

But, what is true worship?

In his book, The Air I Breathe (117), Christian musician Louis Giglio defines true worship as: centering our mind’s attention and our heart’s affection on the Lord. What do we really worship? Giglio (13) writes: follow the trail of your time, your affection, your energy, your money, and your loyality…[that] is what you [really] worship.

Revelations 13 is a dark chapter. However, for everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven (Ecc 3:1). Satan’s counterfeit trinity is given authority for only forty-two months (three and a half years; 1,260 days; v 5). The appearance of exotic creatures (like Behemoth and Leviathan of Job 40-41) should also remind us of Genesis 1 where God creates them all and declares them to be good.

This implies that God is still sovereign.


Lotz, Anne Graham. 2009. Just Give Me Jesus. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

Giglio, Louis. 2003, The Air I Breathe. Colorado Springs: Multnomah Publishers.

Caesar Nero (NRON QSR)

The Greek version of the name and title transliterates into Hebrew as (נרון קסר), and yields a numerical value of 666:
Resh (ר) Samekh (ס) Qoph (ק) Nun (נ) Vav (ו) Resh (ר) Nun (נ) Sum 200 60 100 50 6 200 50 666


  1. What does the symbolism of vv 1-2 refer to? (Daniel 7:2-6)
  2. What do the seven heads refer to? (v 1)
  3. What is the trinity? What is not? (vv 3-4)
  4. What is your definition of blasphemy?
  5. What do we see here? (v 4)
  6. What is true worship? What is not? (vv 4, 8, 12,16)
  7. What is resurrection? What is not? (v 3)
  8. What does the forty-two month timeframe imply? (1 Kings 18:1)
  9. What do exotic creatures remind us of? (Genesis 1; Job 40-41)

Chapter 13 of Revelation: What is True Worship?

Also see:

Chapter 12 of Revelation: The Woman and the Dragon

Chapter 1: Alpha and Omega 

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2zRkNMJ

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Chapter 7 of Revelation: Heavenly Worship

Clouds“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.… they shall not hunger or thirst, neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them, for he who has pity on them will lead them, and by springs of water will guide them” (Isaiah 49:6-10).

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The Apostle John sees heaven as an eternal party. He paints the picture he sees with familiar colors.

When a passage seems mysterious, look for the key verse. In chapter 7 of Revelation we see everything leading up to verse 10 where we witness a huge choir singing: Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb (Rev 7:10). This conclusion is highlighted in the reference to palm branches in verse 9.

For the uninitiated, scriptural allusions can be found by checking the concordance in a good reference bible—the scriptural references in the middle of the page or off in the margins. Old Testament allusions are often the most insightful. In verse 9, for example, we find an allusion to Leviticus 23:40-43—a key reference for the Feast of Tabernacles. You shall dwell in booths for seven days…that your generations may know that I made the people of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt (Lev 23:42-43). And, of course, we see the waving of palm branches (Lev 23:40). This party celebrates salvation—as mentioned in verse 10.

This chapter of Revelations is famous for its numbers. Here we read that the remnant of Israel will number 144,000. This is a big number, but the more important number comes in verse 9: a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages (Rev 7:9). The remnant of Israel is numbered, but the multitude of Gentiles is too big to be numbered!

The allusion here is to the parable of the wedding feast. The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. (Matt 22:2-3). The invited guests have no interest in the party so the king opens up the guest list: And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests (Matt 22:1). Our party is a wedding feast.

The most important allusion in Revelations 7 is to Isaiah. Isaiah 49, cited above, references one of the Servant Song passages—references to the coming Messiah. Jesus cited another Servant Song in his sermon in Nazareth: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor (Luke 4:18; Isa 61:1). Sunday morning worship is a rehearsal for the real party in heaven and we are guests of the king himself.

You have to love a good party! And guess what? You are invited.


1. Do you have questions from last week? Did any important events happen in your life this week? Do you have any thoughts that you would like to share?
2. What is the basic subject of chapter 6?
3. What are the angels doing? (v. 1) Why? (v. 3)
4. How many saints are sealed from Israel? (v. 4) How many others? (v. 9) a. What is the parable of the wedding feast? (Matt 22:2-10)
5. What is going on in heaven? (vv. 10-12)
6. What does the elder ask? (v. 13) What is the answer (v. 14)
7. What are the Servant Songs in Isaiah? (v. 16; Isaiah 42:1-4, 49:1-6, 50:4-9, 52:13-53:12, and 61:1-3)


Chapter 7 of Revelation: Heavenly Worship

Also see:

Chapter 6 of Revelation: Seals, Creatures, and Horses 

Chapter 1: Alpha and Omega 

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2fEPbBK

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What is worship?

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

. . . the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying, Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created. (Rev 4:10–11)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

If a spiritual discipline points us to God, then worship is the prince of the spiritual disciplines. In fact, we were made for worship (Calhoun 2005, 25).

Unfortunately, the Bible’s first picture of worship also pictures improper worship. Cain brought God some fruit; Abel slaughtered the first born of his flock and brought God the fat portions. God honored Abel’s sacrifice, but not Cain’s (Gen 4:3–5). Improper worship is like inviting your supervisor to your house and serving leftovers at dinner—you may not get fired, but it degrades the relationship.

One of the first deacons of the church, Stephen, was arrested in Jerusalem and was arraigned before the Sanhedrin. There, he accused them of limiting the access to God at the temple, of killing the prophets, of betraying and murdering Christ, and, therefore, of not keeping the law. Improper worship—limiting access to God—was Stephen’s first charge. For this and other things, they took Stephen out and stoned him (Acts 7:48–58).

Stephen’s complaint was not about altar sacrifices. When the Israelite people lived in Egypt, they needed to go into the wilderness to offer sacrifices, in part, because they sacrificed animals that were sacred to the Egyptians (Exod 8:26). The point of the sacrifice was to demonstrate loyalty to God by forsaking the typical idols of the day (Lev 17:7) [1]. However, over time the sacrifices lost their meaning, became routine, or, worse, started to look like divine bribes—improper worship [2]. Echoing the Prophet Isaiah (Isa 1:16), King David writes: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Ps 51:17) The content of worship, not its form, is what makes worship proper or improver.

An important picture of proper worship is given in Revelation 4:10-11 where the twenty-four elders cast their crowns before the throne of God. In heaven, the elders are casting down crowns given them by God, yet they still humbly lay them down (e.g. Rev 2:10). On earth, a crown is a symbol (an idol) of our vanity—a conspicuous display of personal wealth, power, and authority; it does not have to be a golden tiara! When I cast my crowns at the feet of the king of kings, I am surrendering all my idols—money, power, and authority—to God. On earth as it is in heaven this is the ultimate act of worship.

How do we then properly lay our crowns before the Lord?

Proper worship is an idol crashing event [3]. In worship we demonstrate our loyalty to God by surrendering to God the idols that most typically capture our hearts—our money, our power, and our authority. For some, it will mean writing checks; for others it may be donating time; for still others it may be simply to show up at worship clean and sober. For most of us, it means bringing along our families. For all of us, it means joining in God’s praises. Worship is a smorgasbord of praise.

When we look beyond our pride and idols to God, we cast down our crowns and truly worship.

[1] For more discussion, see: (Hahn 2009, 150).

[2] For example, the Prophet Isaiah (Isa 1:13) writes: “bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations—I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.” Likewise, the prophet Malachi writes: “When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil?” (Mal 1:8)

[3] The prophet Mohammed (1934, 21.51–.66) wrote that Abraham’s father was an idol-maker. One day when his father was away, Abraham smashed all but the biggest idol in his shop. When his father returned and confronted him, Abraham told his father to ask the remaining idol what happened. His father replied—you know that idols cannot speak. To which Abraham responded—then why do you worship anything but the living God?


Calhoun, Adele Ahlberg. 2005. Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices that Transform Us. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books.

Hahn, Scott W. 2009. Kinship by Covenant: A Canonical Approach to the Fulfillment of God’s Saving Promises. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

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Long: Honoring God in Worship

Cover, Thomas Long. Honoring God in Worship
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Long: Honoring God in Worship

Thomas Long. Beyond the Worship Wars:  Building Vital and Faithful Worship. Herndon:  Alban Institute.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Before I attended seminary, I spoke with a pastor who began quizzing me about a worship service that she was planning.  The question totally stumped me.  For me, worship was that mysterio

us experience on Sunday mornings that drew me closer to God (or not).  I had no idea what worship was or how to plan it.  As I studied worship in seminary, Thomas Long’s book, Beyond the Worship Wars, helped reduce the mystery in worship planning.

Long defines worship as: what happens when people become aware that they are in the presence of a living God (18).  But how does a faithful church actually bring people into awareness of God?  Long offers an interesting insight:

Even when Christian worship is at its best, it is much like that Mother’s Day breakfast.  It is always the work of amateurs, people who do this for love, kids in the kitchen overcooking the prayers, half-baking the sermons, and crashing and stumbling through the responses on the way to an act of adoration (vii).

Does the word, humility, come to mind?

Beyond the Worship Wars is written in 10 chapters whose titles are instructive:

  1. Worship wars:  a report from the front lines.
  2. Why do people come to worship?  The presence of mystery,
  3. Why do people come to worship?  A sense of belonging.
  4. All the world’s a stage—and heaven too.
  5. O for a thousand tongues:  the challenge of music.
  6. Tents, temples, and tables:  the space of worship.
  7. Serving in this place:  neighborhoods and mission.
  8. Come to the joyful dance:  memory and celebration.
  9. In the spirit on the Lord’s Day:  Leadership.
  10. Epilog:  Can revitalized worship happen here?

These chapters are preceded by a preface and acknowledgments and followed by notes and a bibliography.

In surveying Long’s chapter titles, is anything in all of creation left out?  This is not an idle question, but more a theological one.  The apostle Paul writes:   And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons and daughters, the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:23).  In writing about the cultural wars, new cultural realities lead Long (2) to observe that:  rare also is the congregation that has not felt some stress, some measure of conflict over all this ferment in worship [and in the world!]

Long (2-9) sees the conflict arising between two groups.  The first group seeks to recover the genuinely biblical worship of the ancient church as represented by interest in Bishop Hippolytus of the third century following Vatican II.  The second group focuses on seeker [1] worship symbolized by the praise music of the Willow Creek Community Church (www.WillowCreek.org) led by Bill Hybels.  While recognizing that the seeker worship is influenced more by our television culture than the Gospel story, Long sees wisdom in looking for a third-way that adopts the best of both worship styles (10-11).

How do we make room for God in worship, regardless of style?

Motivation clearly matters.  Long (26) sees us coming to worship for two fundamental reasons:  the hunger for communion with God [a sense of mystery] and the hunger for human community [a sense of belonging].  Theologians call the first need transcendence (God above us); they call the second immanence (God with us).  When we come to worship, the question of authenticity quickly arises because if our view of God is too transcendent, worship is dry and lifeless.  And if our view of God is too immanent, worship is too worldly.  Hence, true worship involves balancing this tension.

Long (107-110) ends with four insights:

  1. Pastoral leadership is the key to worship renewal.
  2. Whenever worship is renewed, some congregational conflict is inevitable.
  3. To change worship, significant lay involvement is necessary.
  4. Education and publicity help pave the way for worship renewal.

How do we make room for God in worship?  Long points out that the best worship is to some degree learned by heart (86).  This is because when worship is memorized, we are less distracted and more open to God’s presence.

Long’s Book, Beyond the Worship Wars, is a helpful book which I have given as a gift to friends.  Like many of the books published by the Alban Institute (www.alban.org), it is worth a look.


[1] A seeker is someone interested in (seeking) God , but not yet a believer.

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