Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Marriage Vows 

I guess there's a trend out there to change the marriage vow from "As long as we both shall live" to "As long as our love shall last". Which is yet more justification for my decision to never perform a wedding for anyone who insists on writing their own vows.

Good article on the subject from Imago Dei.

Hm... maybe I've started blogging again.

Worship, again 

I believe I've talked about this before, but I doubt anyone would think I exactly exhausted the subject. And besides, my recent trip gave me much opportunity to think about worship. I have discovered that I frequently have my most interesting insights on a given topic while I am talking to someone aobut the topic. And in the Philippines, I had much opportunity to talk about worship and the Reformed view of worship, and hence, much time to think about it.

Many of us traditionalists feel there is something off-putting, something vaguely profane, about contemporary worship modes. Personally, I tend to feel soiled after such a service, like if I watch a movie with content I shouldn't be watching. In such a movie, there are certain images, certain themes, which may get left in my head and pop back in and cause me trouble for years. Likewise, in such a worship service, I am treated to certain theological images and themes, which, while very seductive to the human soul, can be far more damaging even than images of a more carnal nature.

In both kinds of worship, there is always a worship leader. And the difference between the two services can be perhaps best be characterized by the difference in what this worship leader does.

In one kind of worship, the worship leader, who is usually the pastor, along with whatever instruments / choirs / whatever are supporting him, help the congregation through song, readings, confession and prayer verbally express their praise for Jehovah. Modeled after the Psalms, this will be on two topics- who God is, and what He has done. This can and should be a very emotional experience, but the emotion of it will always be the result of the truths expressed.

In the other kind of worship, the worship leader, who is usually someone younger and more attractive than the pastor, along with whatever bands or singers are supporting him or her, directly create an emotional state with the audience through performing arts which, since Jesus' name is associated with what is being done, is called worship. And so, though they say they're doing the same thing, helping the audience worship, what they mean by that is very different- by 'worshiping', what they mean is, achieving a certain emotional state.

I would assert that the first mode is real worship, and the second, manifestly, is not.

Worship is the human being's highest function. We were created to glorify God, as was all else that was made. To glorify God is to reveal who He is. God is so great and so good that to talk about who He is and what He has done is inherently to praise Him. Worship then must be focused on who God is and what He has done, as the Psalmist tells us- Praise Him for His mighty acts! Praise Him according to His excellent greatness (Psalm 150:2)!

But contemporary worship, insofar as there is any content in it at all, focuses primarily on how I feel about God. It is not praising God to say how much I love Him. In fact, it may just be praising me. Certainly, when I talk about how much I love God in response to the truth of who He is and what He has done, then that can truly be praise and worship. But an emotional state is not worship. Worship is glorifying God.

And the style of music is not irrelevant either. A style of music which is performace-oriented, directs attention to the stage and the performers, and is of a level of volume and production as to make it fairly irrelevant whether anyone in the congregation is singing or not, is not a worshipful style of music. It has nothing to do with what instruments are used or when the song was written. It has everything to do with what you think you're doing when you worship, and whether your music supports that purpose or detracts from it.

Hopefully, you now understand why a contemporary worship service makes me feel vaguely unclean. It's kind of like watching a dirty movie to me. Images are shown and themes are expressed which are perversions of very important truths. And those images and themes are very seductive, because they play right to the heart of what makes us sinners- the desire to have a self-centered worship and a self-centered life. They take things which of themselves are beautiful, and twist them to serve man's selfish ends. And sometimes those images are hard to get out of your head.

In writing this, I've recalled some other blog posts on the topic which are quite appropriate as well: Here's one from an anonymous Reformed blogger, and I can't find the others that I'm thinking of, at least not without spending more time than I spent writing my own article which seems kind of silly to do.


For those that are concerned, my health is much better today. I almost certainly did not have malaria; just a bad flu bug as I expected. I haven't actually got the results of the test back yet, but since I feel so much better, it seems unlikely. I still have a nasty cough; otherwise, much much improved.

Monday, July 25, 2005

More about the Philippines 

I thought since I said some kind of negative things about the Philippines, in all fairness I should point out some of the good points.

The people were very friendly and hospitable. People that had no connection to the work we were doing and didn't know me at all were inviting my family out to stay with them next time. One gentleman, Raul, who was the brother-in-law of the other pastor I went with, tried to take us to some fantastic resorts in the Philippines, that never worked out because of our busy schedule. And the mother-in-law of one of the Filipino pastors told me that anytime I was in the Philippines, I HAD to come see her.

Also, the food was amazing. It's a little hard to get very good seafood in Colorado, but the seafood there was probably the best I ever had. Lots of different kinds of fish, crab, clams and other stuff.

Speaking of the food, there is one dish I wouldn't try- Balut. It's a duck egg, and they eat it after the duck has partially formed inside the egg. I'm brave, but not that brave.

The Philippines 

I have recently returned from a two-week trip to the Philippines. The RCUS sent me and another pastor to explore the possibility of beginning a work there. There are a number of pastors there who are dissatisfied with their present church affiliation and desire to affiliate with us, which is exciting.

The trip itself was quite an experience. Manila is a city of fifteen million, making it one of the largest cities in the world. We were staying in a suburb province, Cavite, and did not spend any time in Manila except to just pass through. But it's a difficult thing to grasp for me, to be in a place with so many familiar sights and sounds, but which is still so utterly alien. There is a great deal of wealth in Manila, and a great deal of poverty. Huge air-conditioned shopping malls stood right beside shantytowns. People sell cell-phone service out of shacks next to the street.

And it is, unfortunately, a very dirty city, which I think all by itself illustrates their burning need for the Gospel. They burn their trash in the streets; they casually throw garbage into the river. They don't even think about this. The country is 80% Catholic, 15% Protestant (give or take), and 5% other. But the Christianity which exists there (both Catholic and all too often Protestant as well), as is the case in so many places, is just a thin gloss over the underlying culture which feels, on my short visit, to be some combination of animism / spiritism and hedonistic nihilism.

I am looking forward to see if we can establish a relationship with these pastors, to start a work there.

I've been deathly ill ever since I got back. I'm pretty sure it's just a severe cold bug, exacerbated by my lack of rest due to the jet lag and our very busy schedule there. But just in case, I'm going in to the doctor today to see if I have malaria.

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