13 August 2010

Jesus Actually Told a Religious Leader that He Was Right

I found it interesting in Mark 12:34 that Jesus actually told a religious teacher/leader that he was not far from the kingdom of heaven. I've known this passage, but it actually struck me today in a fresh way. Jesus said that to the leader because Jesus realized that the leader actually had understanding. It seems Jesus realized this because the leader confessed it is more important to love God with everything we are and to love our neighbors to the very end than to carry out religious rituals or worship traditions. I am reminded of the conversation I had with a few deacons the other day because it occurs to me that we are all hoping to love God with our hearts, souls, minds, and strengths (not to mention our corporal heart, soul, mind, and strength) and to love one another. Could it be that there is more we can offer to God from our love so it is surrendered for God's use? Could it be that we aren't loving our neighbors as ourselves?

If we were in another person's shoes, I suspect we would want to be loved by being noticed, so we probably need to notice everyone. (I think that happens outside of worship with a multigenerational ministry focus and a visitation to seniors from younger generations that aren't just staff and that aren't just keeping appearances.) If we were in another person's shoes, I suspect we would want to have things our way, but at least for me, if I were off-base or not clicking with God's vision and direction, it would be more important that someone hung in there with me, let me speak my mind, and also patiently communicate the vision until I got it. Then I'd want to be sure I were part of it at least on a small level. I think the deacons are right to offer deacony care, and I am also convinced that every generation here needs to be reminded of God's vision as much as possible and included in it on whatever level over which we actually have the power to include them. Those who get it need to help communicate it unceasingly to those who don't. (Does any of us really get the full monty of God's vision anyway?) We need to involve and include everyone. To love someone as we want to be loved is not to placate, to appease, or even to do what we say in hopes that we can move on from this conversation; it feels condescending when people do that. Loving people as we love ourselves means hanging in their and talking with people who actually want a conversation. For the others, I am reminded of how we tend to deal with family members who speak up without actually wanting dialogue. Of course we listen; we can't do otherwise. But how much of our real attention do these people get? Not much. We can hear them, we can even respond, but at the end of the day, those are the stories about "Crazy Aunt Elma" or "Scroogy Cousin Bob" that we tell but that don't decide the direction of a family. To do that would not be to love our families, nor would it move our families in a forward-moving, healthy direction. Treating the family of God any differently is certainly not love. It is not loving people as we love ourselves. We're missing the boat bigtime if we ignore or listen to much to people who aren't interested in a dialogue. We're missing to boat, too, if we don't engage dialogue with God's people who are out there actually trying to serve God. I suspect our heart isn't God's in this matter, and I'm convinced we're still learning to love one another as we love ourselves.

So, if we want to be close to the kingdom, that may or may not look like specific activities, but it will always look like full, complete, all-in love.

04 August 2010

Clarification on Buying and Selling Spiritual Gifts

Apparently I need to dig into this a little more deeply. First, let me clarify that my status the other day ("My spiritual gifts are not a commodity to be bought and sold.") was not my way of saying that I lack appreciation or self-esteem. I don't feel used or abused by 99.9% of the people I know. I receive more appreciation than I deserve, and I have enough self-esteem for all of my Facebook friends combined. Though I am still learning how to live it out, I generally know who I am, what I have to offer, and how I can support my family, neighborhood, church family, and community.

Since updating my status that day, several people have taken it upon themselves to try and boost me up. That's very kind of you, and I appreciate you. I'll store those things away for days when I need them. THANKS!

That said, let me clarify where I'm coming from. It seems to me that we have turned a corner in North American churches that scares me. While there are exceptions to this rule, many church systems tend to shop for their leaders (paid and unpaid). The early Christians appointed leaders when it was apparent that someone was gifted to lead. A few hundred years later, when people were essentially forced into Christianity because the emperor converted and gave Christians political power that was abused, leaders were chosen by political maneuvering and hierarchy. That lasted an unfortunately long time among the churches that actually made it to the history books. (Those pockets that did it right seemingly weren't drawing attention to themselves - go figure.) In recent history, much more has been made of people's commitment to Christ manifesting fruit and gifts from the Holy Spirit of Christ. In fact, it now seems so en vogue to have people with a certain gift mix at your church that search committees (or whatever) now look only for the "right gifts" for a particular ministry position.

This is all good until we put that within our cultural context. The majority of North Americans from all walks of life live in such a manner that we are able to pick and choose everything we experience. We all pick and choose where to spend our money and time based on what is best for us and our loved ones. The people who give us the materials and experiences we want are called "customer service personnel," specifically chosen because they facilitate us spending money how we want to spend it in ways that will also benefit the service provider. We are so accustomed to this system that it is nearly impossible for us to leave it out of church life and public worship.

You know, public worship, that time when we all get together supposedly because we believe God is good and loving and God has blessed us so much that we cannot contain ourselves - we must share in the love of God with others like us! We must unite our voices together to tell God and to remind ourselves that Jesus is worth everything we have and everything that we are! Or at least, this is the Sunday School answer we give each other when asked why we attend Sunday morning worship.

Oh, but wait. We don't attend Sunday morning worship. We attend "church." "Church" isn't the group of people who exist as Christ's body anymore (thankfully, given some of the things we've done in our churches). "Church" is the place where we go on Sunday mornings. "Church" is the system intended to offer blessing and relief to me. "Church" is the place that gets my time and money when I like what's going on there. "Church" is the place I choose based on which "customer service personnel" offer the best children's program, the best things to keep my teens out of trouble and to help them stop mouthing off at home, a style of music that I can at least tolerate (hopefully like), a talk that says all the right things without making me feel poorly, people friendly enough that I feel welcome without being so friendly that they seem pushy, a place where I can attend and - maybe - participate without feeling embarrassed for spinning my tires. If the personnel can supply the demand that I bring with me to "church," then I'll stick around most Sundays and put my money in the plate. If things get out of line, though, I won't tip...I mean give.

This is a little cynical, admittedly. Part of my wrestling right now is that I'm in a church with some of the best of all people. I regularly see some of the most wonderful, loving, generous, committed, warm people I've ever met. And I love them. Like, really. Love them. What I don't love is that while we have good people and a structure that we could make work if we really wanted to, we have an unwritten system - like almost every church I've ever seen - in which a decision isn't necessarily final if it's questioned by the right people; a person's gifts are attractive in the hiring process but not when the person actually uses their gifts to move us forward; and we spend the time that could be spent in prayer, dreaming, planning, and serving with analyzing, evaluating, retooling, and compromising.*

Our church institution is nothing new. (Now, the people are different, but the system is all too familiar.) People with great gifts are everywhere, and we're even all asking to use our gifts, hoping that we can do what we love to do at church, but until a gift (and/or a person) is approved by the system (nothing formal, of course), we don't go there. We use people whose gifts build up the system we have and contribute to the supply of people's demands. It's too bad, then, that we're doing nothing to supply God's demand, since God is supposedly the One we gather for in the first place. It's too bad that, rather than me being able simply to exercise discernment in planning and song selection, administration is producing a thoughtful flow, worship leadership in congregational singing, teaching and knowledge during the message, I join my sisters and brothers here who still use our gifts while weeding through the myriad voices of the system, trying to sway us from employing our gifts for God's good use into the system of "buying and selling," supply and demand.

*About compromise. I don't believe in it. At all. It's a surefire way for at least two people who disagree not to have to work through it and make the best decision. We call it middle-ground, but it's really the way to end up with no one happy...except anyone who doesn't want you to make a good, healthy, sacrificial decision.

10 May 2010

Eating Crow: Your Chuckle of the Day

You can imagine how self-important I felt on my drive to the nursing home yesterday afternoon. There I was, sacrificing my own day and my own plans with Natasha to go to the nursing home and play piano for the residents on Mothers Day. I thought, "Not many people will go to the nursing home today. They will be concerned with their own Mothers Day plans to go out for someone else's day. And those who do go are probably going out of a sense of duty. They probably haven't been there in awhile, but they're thinking they'd better go on Mothers Day if they go at all!"

Who knows if that's right, but I was certainly feeling good. I stopped off at my desk to pick up a book of piano preludes that I knew would be nice for the residents. I thought, "I'll bet no one plays extra music at these events. They're probably just like I would be any other day: show up, do my thing, leave." Not me, though, not yesterday. Oh, was I ever good!

And I played beautifully! I mean beautifully. It didn't matter that the piano was in ill repair and out of tune. It didn't matter that the sound was muddy, that the sostenuto pedal was broken, or that there was so much noise that no one could hear me anyway. It was good music.

That is, it was good until I got to "Blessed Assurance." I was told ahead of time that the nursing home had their own hymnals. And they do. They're the kind with no music, I discovered upon my arrival. "No matter," I thought. "I know these songs anyway." So, when the group wanted to sing "Blessed Assurance," I prepared myself to continue blessing these people with great music.

Then I drew a blank. "What key is that in again? Is it D or G?" Now, if you're not a musician, there's a BIG difference there. Something said, "D," inside me, but I second-guessed myself and started in G. It's a good thing that Ken is a strong tenor, or no one would've been singing a perfect fifth too high, as I was playing it! "Oh, no!" I thought. "This was beautiful up till now! Aargh!!!"

So I kept playing. Then it hit me. "Modulate!" I thought. So I did. With no warning to the singers whatsoever, I began modulating between the verses. And I kept modulating until we arrived at something somewhat singable. The only problem is that on that muddy piano, the modulations were unclear, and it wasn't until several bars into each verse that anyone knew I had actually modulated. Singers in one key, piano in another, and the leader of the whole thing singing an octave below whatever he could hear that was loudest. Oh, what a shlimazel! By the end of the song, even Bernie was looking at me as if to say, "Where on earth did you go? Mars?!"

I couldn't even look at the residents. Thankfully, the one closest to me was asleep and the one beside her was just so gracious and pleased to have people around that she just encouraged us all. I felt so ashamed. I arrived with this feeling of generosity and goodwill, then I derailed an otherwise lovely afternoon. The rest of the day was salvaged quite nicely by the leader of the day and the subsequent songs, the keys of which I didn't forget. Nevertheless, I left for home praying, "Oh, it's good to be humbled!"


22 February 2010

How Shall We Worship - What Idols Tempt Us Away from Worshiping the Only True God?

I grew up in a conservative, church-attending, God-talk-giving, people-shunning culture. The denominations in which I grew up tended to use the word "idolatry" to judge "those people out there," or the people who weren't sitting in church pews on Sunday mornings. If I hear one more sermon about how people outside the church are worshiping things other than God, I think I may scream: why was that news to us? Why did it surprise us that people who have chosen not to worship Jesus will worship something/someone else? Why did we spend so much energy railing against people who worship idols when they were not there in the service to hear our railing in the first place?

We likely spent so much energy trying to name other people's idolatry in order to hide our own (55). I think Dawn struck gold in this chapter, not only because she affirms something I've thought for awhile now. She struck gold because she nailed the very reason why God would communicate to God's people in the Scriptures why God hates idolatry. It was to God's people that the reminder was offered in Psalm 96:5 that the gods of the nations are mere idols. It was to God's people that a reminder was offered that God is great, God is our Creator, that God is worth our praise, that God is above any false god. It is fitting, then, that Dawn would invite God's people to consider what idols tempt us away from worship in spirit and in truth.

This fifth chapter (and most vital question so far, in my books) observes how quickly God's people will replace God with anything else in worship. Here Dawn calls out how many of our worship practices, rituals, ideologies, etc., become more important than God when we worship God. If God's people truly responded to God's worthiness of our adoration, then we would "resist all idolatries of self and comfort and ease, all divinizing of worship leaders, all sacralizing of our tastes and preferences, all gods of power or success" (49). It is inappropriate to elevate a person, a program, or a function of the church to receive our adoration and highest appreciation. It is inappropriate for God's people to stress one side or another of several worship tensions like those listed on p. 53: is worship about hearing God's truth or responding to God; is it about the head or the heart; is it about keeping fresh or maintaining continuity with the past; is it contextualized or universal; is it an opportunity for new expression or familiarity for the sake of congregational participation; is it about order or freedom in the Spirit; is it about joy, delight, and elation, or sorrow, penitence, and lament; is it about enthusiastic expression or silence; is it about ritual or spontaneity; is it about simplicity or complexity? The answer should be, "Yes."

This is why I think the word "balance" has been such a trap for God's people who worship in 21st century, North American churches. I recoil at the word "balance" because discussions around "balance" generally begin and/or end in anything but balance. We have convinced ourselves that we have two poles in each of the questions above. Each polar extreme (e.g. freshness vs. continuity with the past) is placed on a scale. If we have enough freshness and enough continuity, then the scale will balance, and we'll all live to see another day in church. If, however, there's too much freshness or too much continuity, then the balance will tip to one side or another, and we are left in despair. Maintain that balance above all else! we say.

This simply cannot be. Because the answer to each of the above polarities is, "yes," we cannot strive so hard to strike balance with every tension we encounter. Seeking balance requires that we have just enough of this and just enough of that. The question becomes, "Who decides how much of one thing equals a balanced amount of something else?" Does one fresh skit in worship have so much weight that it means we should sing Doxology to Old Hundredth after the offering, recite the Apostles' Creed, and end with a hymn just to "balance" things out? Maybe doing one "old" hymn is enough to require a fresh video clip, a liturgical dance, and a praise chorus? This is nonsense that leads precisely where Dawn indicates: an idolatrous worship of the things we do rather than the One for whom we do them (52-56). Triune God has triumphed over all other gods threefold, as Father, Son, and Spirit, and, therefore, God has triumphed over things like worship elements, the appearance of a worship space or those leading in worship, our reputation in the community and our denomination, and whether we are "current" enough. If we spent as much energy worshiping God on every level listed above as we do on balancing, I suspect our worship gatherings would become revolutionary for our faith and, ironically enough, more interesting to people not in our faith.

Dawn's solution to moving away from an idolatrous balancing act into true worship of our only true God is genius. She invites the reader to consider another tension in Scripture: that between fear and love. Fortunately, she clarifies that "fear" is not synonymous with terror or feeling scared, nor is it simply reverence and awe, as we often hear it said in our camp. It is actually a realization that we are unworthy when compared to God, so we do not take God's love and mercy for granted (50). When we worship, then, it is to include both a proper sense of fear and a proper sense of love (both God's love for us and ours for God). Resolving this tension by worshiping in both "moods" better enables us to connect with and to elevate God in a way that rescues us from the snares we lay for ourselves in worship. As the Bible seems to indicate, the solution to a faith problem is neither working it out in a frenzy of self-urgency nor ignoring it so it will go away. The solution to our faith problems is to worship - to worship God, who is worth it, with all that we are in every way that we can, keeping God as our focus. It's as if Jesus meant it when He told the disciples to seek God's Kingdom first or that Paul meant it when he instructed those reading his letter to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus.

This chapter certainly unearthed some huge questions and opinions from me, but I close wondering how many of the idolatries Dawn exposes are present in my daily, personal worship. How many are in our worship at IBC? (I think I can tell you some of them....) How many are so prevalent in our present-day North American churches that we wouldn't even recognize them as a problem?! God, have mercy.

Great quote: "We spend our lives choosing what pleases us, so it is decidedly countercultural to search instead for what pleases God" (55). I like being countercultural. :)

03 February 2010

How Shall We Worship - What Will Be the Result of Genuine Worship?

Some time ago I began musing on Marva Dawn’s How Shall We Worship? (Tyndale, 2003). After nearly a month off and two subsequent interruptions in my routine, I feel happy to return to this. Chapter four was a fantastic read for many reasons, the least of which is not the challenge Dr. Dawn offers to Jesus followers in 21st century North American culture. Before I dive in, please remember that these posts are not a final opinion or a “thus saith the Lord” statement; they are my musings as a turn thoughts and feelings around inside me. :)

Dr. Dawn uses chapter four to tackle the question of the result of worship. Of course this chapter had my attention because I have experienced several perspectives on this question. Some people in my past told me that worship results in an emotional bath that cleanses our hearts and minds, leaving us in a spiritual euphoria. Others told me that it results in our intellects being boosted with theology and doctrine that reinforce Christian dogma and instruct “right” Christian living. Still others told me that worship results in engaging God at church, shutting out the rest of the week, and preparing to hear someone teach from the Scriptures.

Before reading this chapter, my big assumption was that the result of worship was all of these - and none - all at the same time. I’ve often wondered if it’s a good idea for us to spend so much time looking at the result. Dr. Dawn challenged me by challenging something much more basic, our theology of “going to church” (39). Likely one of the biggest reasons there are too many perspectives of the result of our worship is that we tend to link worship with going to church. Church is not something to go to; Church is something that Jesus’ followers are. Dr. Dawn calls people not to go to church but, rather, to be Church (40). If we are Church, then we rethink worship and its results. The result of worship is simply being Church: it is Jesus’ followers learning to live together and to impact the world around us (45).

This perspective is terribly important, particularly for our North American churches. Many churches I’ve served and heard about are attended by people who view church as a place to go, a weekly event to take in. We families and individuals choose whether or not to attend church every week for thousands of reasons. Once we get to church, we choose whether or not to participate in the worship activities for thousands more reasons. Then we leave church, going into the other 167 hours of the week either by analyzing how well we received what we just attended or by ignoring it altogether. Meanwhile, as Jesus’ followers, we are still the Church, only we have not connected with other people who make up Church, nor have we attempted to engage Christ. If worship really is our response to God’s grace, as Dr. Dawn previously wrote, then worship didn’t take place at all!

If we genuinely worship, being Church instead of attending church, then we can agree that “the result of worshiping will be that we know the Trinity better and will be formed to be more like Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit” (40). What inevitably flows out of that is a witness to the people around us (42). That witness may or may not be verbal, may or may not be logically organized, and likely will not be programmed. It will simply flow out of us to people whom we can bet are certainly paying attention to whether we who claim to follow Jesus actually follow Jesus. (A personal note: what I find scary is that if we claim to follow Jesus, then whatever we do will reflect on Jesus, rightly or wrongly, allowing people’s perception of Jesus to be shaped by what we say and do. If you don’t believe me, just think about the last conversation you had with someone who doesn’t follow Jesus. Was the conversation about Jesus being unworthy of being followed, or was it about how Christians and churches have majorly dropped the ball?)

Sometimes we wonder if it’s reasonable to think anything would flow out of us when we leave worship. It certainly won’t if we simply attend church or program church. However, “if our worship is filled with God’s Splendor - in all kinds of sounds and songs, artworks, Scripture texts, homiletical insights, holy silences, corporate prayers, forgiveness and peace-filled blessings - then we’ll have much to tell!” (43). This is the type of statement that resolves the tension between “worship” and “evangelism” in my mind. We cannot stress ourselves over attempting to evangelize when we come together in public gatherings, nor can we ignore the people coming to church who aren’t being Church. Since it’s worship, we invite the Spirit to fill what we do with God’s splendor. Then we are drawn close to God, God draws close to us (James 4:7), and Jesus is lifted up, drawing people to God (John 12:32). Our response when we come to church is actually, then, to be Church, reveling in how worthy God is of our time and attention. The result is that we’re more like Jesus, less like the humans who turn people “off” from church. Then witness takes place.

A final thought is important, since we acknowledge that witness is something that flows out of a life that is filled up with Christ. Dr. Dawn brings the reader back to Acts 2, a passage we Jesus followers often use to tell people go out and “preach those people into heaven!” Looking at Acts 2, we see that tons of people believed when Peter explained what was going on. However, even more people believed in the discussions that followed, and still more believed when people lived a life that reflected Jesus (44). Being a witness is part of being Church, but most effective witness flows out of a life that worships 168 hours per week. The witness may come about in several ways, but it will always reflect Christ and point people back to Christ, just as our worship will always reflect Christ and point us all back to Christ.

My final question is this: why do we concern ourselves with the result of worship (meaning the hour on Sunday) in the remainder of our week? Shouldn’t the public gathering culminate as the result of an entire week of worship?


25 December 2009

Without You

What I said in December 2007 rings true: I love my dad, and my dad is a windbag. That's why I'm like my dad. That and we both miss one another, especially when holidays roll around. His Hallmark Christmas sounds beautiful, but not because it's without me. It's because it's just the type of Christmas to make my dad almost love Christmas. He has snow, while I'm having a delightfully green and dry (for the Maritimes, anyway) Christmas. He has tons of family around, visits from his in-laws and female children, while it's just the four of us here. He sits on his laptop wondering if I'll respond to his infamous annual missive and, as usual, I'll take the bait.

Three reasons I'll take the bait:

1) Our Christmas letter is still saved on this very machine, safely awaiting me to print more than one copy and to send them out. See, I'm not just like my dad; I'm also my mom. If you walked into her dining room today, I guarantee you there's a card for you somewhere, just waiting to be sent. She's extremely thoughtful. She just has a quirk of writing out cards and letters without sending all of them. Me, too. One of these years, Natasha will tell me she's taking over the Christmas letter. Until then, you're unlikely to receive ours on time. (Ours was finished before Natasha's birthday, by the way. It's really that I simply need to remember to send them.)

2) I almost always take my dad's bait. It's one of the things he likes about me, I'm sure. :) Reality is that my dad is a lot of fun, if a mostly-honest writer. He's extremely, uniquely smart - something I think I'm glad to see manifesting itself in our older daughter. She's an Erskine through and through, so much so that I regularly ask Natasha, "Do you think we're up for parenting this child?" He's had every experience in the book, from professional musicianship, to teaching university students, to consulting with state and federal governments on Internet business, to running an Internet business, to singing, to conducting, to writing, to publishing, to crafting stand-up comedy routines, to completing more degrees than I am aware of, to parenting six children, to preaching, to motorcycling, to do more things than I can even remember off the top of my head. Somehow in the mix of all that, he had the time and thoughtfulness to share his heart and mind with us. He's probably the way I think, laugh, and dream like I do, though I think my sense of humor comes from my mom. He's the reason I believe that anyone can do anything. He's the reason that I love Christmas, ironically enough. He's also the reason I like to tell stories, even if I offer a different perspective than his. (Maybe it's that I like to find stories worth telling on their own, independent of my creative license.) :D He's the example I had for loving my family, and I hope with everything in me to adopt most of what he offered us. He's also the reason I question things and wonder how much around us is "as good as it gets," or whether things can be different. He's the reason I'm an idealist, too. Our talk is different (his can be snarky, mine too often pie-in-the-sky), but in the end, we both want the same things for people and the world. We both want to see people free to realize their fullest potential, a world in which we can all embrace and live in liberty. He's the reason I am so convinced about Jesus, despite how frequently Christians try to make Jesus look bad. He's also the reason I have about two dozen "Dear Dad" letters like his written in my mind. Since the motorcycle ride in November 1998 when he told me his time was limited, I've mourned and remourned the loss that hasn't happened almost every day. His is a life worth celebrating, and that is why I stand my ground and call him "Big Fish." That movie was 100% about my dad, though the creative minds behind it didn't know it at the time. (Interestingly, the main character in "Big Fish" looked a lot like my grandfather Erskine, from whom my dad inherited all these fishy traits.) I will always celebrate my dad's life, today and on the day I'll write my final "Dear Dad," the time I'll actually have to mean it. I wouldn't change my dad being a windbag, overly-talented, too-smart-for-his-own-good, too-charming-for-everyone-else's-own-good, self-proclaimed-curmudgeon-who's-secretly-an-idealist, Christmas-loving, Big Fish for anything. Neither will I stop calling it how I see it. That's what I was raised to do. (Oh, and Dad, since I know you read this now, appealing to my spiritual side will only make me more likely to be honest about how I see it, so better luck next year.)

3) My dad's phone seems to be off or possessed. I've tried calling him (and, therefore, the family) for Christmas a couple of times with no luck other than a strange buzzing sound. Dad, either turn on your phone or get out the anointing oil. You might have a Hallmark Christmas without me, but that won't happen here without you.


10 November 2009

How Shall We Worship - How Do We Worship God?

Chapter three in Dawn's "How Shall We Worship?" gets to another important question that, like chapter two, takes greater precedence over chapter one's "What Kind of Music Should We Use?" Granted, Dawn moves through this book asking questions as they appear in Psalm 96, so no claims are made about a relationship between the importance of a question and where the question appears in a book. This question of how we can worship God, the One whom chapter two rightly told us is the object of worship, sets the tone for people who worship daily. It should also set the tone for our Sunday gatherings, seemingly Dawn's primary focus so far.

Dawn has one simple response to the question, "How Do We Worship God?" She asserts that to worship God is to bless God's name (25). This response comes directly from Psalm 96:2, so it gets no biblical argument from me. Furthermore, it reiterates the concept that God is the object of worship, which I also like. The importance Dawn places on God's name is insightful because it helps shape our worship choices. It helps us choose prayers, music, drama, art forms, lessons, etc., based on God's name. The explanation she gives is also helpful: to bless God's name is to honor God's character, God's nature, God's being, all of which are captured in God's name. Those of us who have done much Bible reading know that God has several names throughout the Scriptures, all based on some attribute or characteristic of God. There are a great many ways to bless God's name, as we "bow down before the mystery and wonder of the incarnation" (26).

We can likely all assent to blessing God's name as part of worship, but I am stricken by Dawn's perspective that our worship is useless, in a sense (27). Understand here that Dawn does not think worship has no point; rather, she states that God doesn't actually need our blessing. After all, God is the one who blesses us. God is self-sufficient. God made everything, owns everything, and is over everything. Therefore, our blessing doesn't give something to God that God does not already have. Instead, "the verb calling us to bless God's name is an imperative urging us to kneel, to adore the Lord with bended knee...because God deserves our gratitude" (27). Again, "It is actually unproductive to bless God - God doesn't need it, and it won't change God's opinion about us one whit. Moreover, if we are selfless enough truly to sing to or of [God], it might not even make us feel any better. But we will be changed by it if we respond earnestly and wholeheartedly to all that God is" (27).

It is easy to see, then, that God, our object of worship, is the one who should receive blessing in worship. We ought to choose worship activities that seek to bless God, not to bless us. Our blessing may come from God, but worship is not about us or our blessing. Dawn nails several churches that have nice worship times, called "nice" because of what we feel when we're there. God is gracious enough to welcome us into what God feels sometimes, but she rightly calls our attention away from ourselves and back onto God.

That being said, I have two critiques of this chapter that I'd like to address. First, Dawn seems often to respond unfavorably to churches who take people into consideration in planning their worship services. She seemingly has little time for people who want to "attract" people to their churches with worship (27). That makes sense in that worship is about God and not about people. Trying to attract people who don't believe with a spectacle of our blessing God is foolhardy. On the other hand, I certainly hope that Dawn takes time later in the book to talk about worship tools and modes of communication. I belong to a movement that highly respects worship being done in the language of the people. While that movement originally wanted people to be able to speak in their native tongues, I am convinced that we face a similar decision today in terms of worship approaches. While I agree all musical forms should be used and never dictated by an effort to attract people, I strongly feel that music is a mode of communication. I am convinced that communicating through irrelevant music presents worshipers with a choice between music and worship. Relevant music (of which there are many styles - not just the common pop music with Jesus themes that churches like ours use so frequently) enables worship. When worship is done well with relevance to its people and their community, then music is less likely to overshadow worship. Music fades into the background, allowing worshipers to connect to lyrics, to emotions, to thoughts, and to other ways to bless God. A psalm, hymn, or spiritual song done well in a way that communicates in the "language" of the people present helps keep God in God's proper place. So, if we reject music simply because it seems attractive or is more appealing to unchurched people, then we run the risk of not communicating to some people. Let's not attempt to attract people with church music and worship, nor let us maintain dull, mediocre music so we can say we're not trying to attract others. (Note: any music style done poorly will be a distraction, so assume nothing about music. Hymns can be quite relevant, as can psalms and spiritual songs, if they are communicated well and with relevance. Is the trick for your worship ministry to get rid of the hymns? To abolish new spiritual songs? To step beyond the psalter to more contemporary thoughts? If so, then beware imminent irrelevance.)

I hesitate briefly to offer my second critique, which regards the church calendar. I am a big believer in using the church calendar for worship. It was designed in such a way that we trace the life of Christ throughout the year and are more likely to worship God more thoroughly when we look at all the stages of Christ's life and ministry. Furthermore, I couldn't agree more with Dawn, who indicates that using the church calendar for worship also helps us offer ourselves more fully to God. Much of the church year deals with topics and emotions that we don't often offer to God in our Sunday gatherings. Lent is likely the best example because it helps us to identify with Christ's time in the wilderness and helps us bring our emotions of sadness, disappointment, exhaustion, and apprehension to God. We are able to worship a more complete picture of God, and we're able to offer more of ourselves. Our services cannot always look the same if we're worshiping God for all God is with all that we are (30). Where I struggle with Dawn, then, is not with the concept that the church calendar is a valuable tool. Rather, the way she put this into her chapter reinforces my perception that this book is not entirely exegetical. Putting the church calendar in this chapter seemed sudden, as if Dawn had an agenda running parallel to her BIble study. She's completely biblical about worshipers blessing God's name, but can we honestly say that the Bible wants us to worship through the church calendar? Surely, this tool makes it easier to see more of God's attributes and character, and it requires more thought and feeling from worshipers, but is it really necessary for adequate worship? Can people not bless God's name without something like the church calendar? I suspect Dawn would assent that we can bless God without the church calendar, but I feel bothered that this agenda was put on the same level as exegesis. It seems Dawn saw an opportunity to include her own opinion in the Bible study and she took it. Fortunately, it's a helpful opinion, but reader, beware that we don't assume that the church calendar has anything to do with Psalm 96.