Scientist, Neil Shenvi, on the Three Major Paradoxes of Atheism

A good distillation of 3 paradoxes that emerge from a materialist perspective.

James Bishop's Theological Rationalism

Screen Shot 2017-11-20 at 4.23.48 PM.png Photo by Brett Jordan

This is a phenomenal piece penned by apologist Neil Shenvi. We’ve met Shenvi before in an article on my bog explaining why he is a Christian. As stated there, Shenvi is currently a research scientist with Prof. Weitao Yang at Duke University in the Department of Chemistry. Shenvi attended Princeton University as an undergraduate, he then became a Christian while at Berkeley, CA. There he did his PhD in Theoretical Chemistry. His thesis focused on quantum computation, including topics in quantum random walks, cavity quantum electrodynamics, spin physics, and the N-representability problem. From 2005-2010 he did research into nonadiabatic dynamics, electron transfer, and surface science. He then moved down to Durham in 2010 to do research into nonadiabatic dynamics and electronic structure theory with professor Weitao Yang at Duke University. Hi is married to Christina Shenvi who also has a PhD in Chemistry from Berkeley…

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Welcome SHSU SSA Members


I was pleased to accept an invitation to address the SHSU Secular Student Alliance at their Nov 16th meeting.

For the students who I met there, I created this landing page for you in the event that you come to my blog seeking more information about my remarks.

Since I am a full-time Chemistry professor and not a full-time blogger, my posts are few and far between. And they are not a comprehensive treatment of the Christian religion. Still, I think they are useful and encouraging or I would not have written them.

I welcome your questions about anything I have written, preferably personally. Let’s have lunch at the South Paw. I’ll buy the first one. OK?

My main remarks were on What I believe and why I believe it.

I talked about Christianity being the best description of reality – the way things REALLY are. No doubt this is a curious claim.

I discussed evidence outside of Christianity that corroborates the main points in the life of Jesus.

You may have incorrect thoughts about what the word ‘faith’ means within a Biblical framework. This series of posts at the Ratio Christi at SHSU blog should help you understand that there is No Such Thing as Blind Faith.

If I had to predict what tomorrow’s questions will be, I’d choose the following:

  1. The Problem of Evil and Suffering. (Video 1 and Video 2)
  2. Moral Issues
  3. Science Issues (The Big Bang and Fine Tuning)
  4. Philosophical Questions (Contingency and Ontology)
  5. Biblical Questions (What is the Bible? The Story in the Bible. Literary Styles in the Bible. The Bible as Meditation Literature. and The Use of Narrative Passages in the Bible.)
  6. Specific Questions about Biblical Passages (Go to the Bible Project to see an OVERVIEW OF EVERY BOOK OF THE BIBLE. Their work is masterful!)

None of this will matter if you are unable to entertain the idea that you might be wrong in your assumptions. Yes, that cuts both ways. I’m okay with that.

Are you?

God bless you for making it this far.


Five Ways Historic Christianity Relates Faith to Reason

An excellent post by Ken Samples. Read it carefully. He makes some interesting points that are sure to make you think.



Many people view faith and reason as being at odds with one another. For example, some differentiate faith from reason by asserting that faith merely involves hoping something is true, whereas reason involves affirming something to be true based upon justifying evidence. According to this model, faith is equivalent to wishful thinking and is thus incompatible with reason. But historic Christianity’s view of faith and reason is very different from this popular stereotypical definition.

In defining the relationship between faith and reason, historic Christianity draws upon both Scripture and sustained logical analysis. Here are five ways that historic Christianity relates faith to reason:

1. Faith’s Definition Involves Reason

In a biblical context, having faith (Greek: the verb, pisteúō, “believe”; the noun, pístis, “faith”) means confident trust in a credible source (God, Christ, or the truth). So the root word for faith in the New Testament is…

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The Six R’s of Education


Welcome to the start of the Fall 2017 School Year.

This post is for teachers AND students. I hope it encourages you to start the semester strong.

You have heard of the Three R’s of Education – Readin’, Ritin’, and Rithmatic.

But there are three other R’s that are a vital part of education. In fact, they hold the key to progress in the first three R’s.

They are Responsibility, Respect, and Reverence.


How many problems in education would be fixed immediately if all parties thought about THEIR particular responsibilities. The state, the school boards, the school administrators, the teachers, the students, and their parents (grandparents or guardians) all have responsibilities that cannot be eliminated. The other parties cannot fill the role of any missing member of this set of responsible parties.


Even when it is hard to give or seems unearned. Respect should be taught, and it should be modeled. Be the first to offer respect, especially when it is difficult to do so. There are many impressionable eyes watching your behavior. I’m speaking to the parent, the teacher, and also the student. Be the first to offer respect.

(Repetition is the mother of pedagogy.) Be the first to offer respect.


This is the least obvious of the 6 R’s. But I think reverence is the master key that is missing in many schools.

I always associated reverence with holy places or churches. But actually, reverence is simply recognizing a place as being special.

School is a special place.

The Christian world view would agree with this concept. Education is a part of what we call Common Grace. It is a gift from God just like our fruitful planet and our rational minds.

What if we taught reverence for the actual school?

It was a different time and a different economic situation, but when I was in school, it made sense for a teacher to challenge me if I put my feet on the desk with the question, “Do you put your feet on the furniture at home?” The implication was “no”. And if I wouldn’t do it at home, then I shouldn’t do it at school. But this question doesn’t make any sense to many of our students.

Some of our students don’t have furniture or even homes.

New questions could be asked,

“Is that how you treat the place that is changing your life for the better?”

“Is that how you speak to a person who is pouring their heart and soul into your education?”

“Is that how you treat your fellow students, who are trying to better themselves just like you are?”

I say we raise the bar – not just to the first three R’s for state testing purposes, but to the 6R level – where students recognize their responsibilities, where they respect the dignity of those behind them, with them, and above them in the educational endeavor, and where they come to revere the facilities and persons who daily sacrifice on their behalf.

We raise the bar for the staff as well – where they seriously approach their responsibilities, where they will be the first to offer respect to each other, the students, and ‘the bosses’, and where they will also revere the facilities. Yes, even those broken down facilities that will not quit in the task of changing lives in Huntsville and beyond.

What a master key reverence can be. When combined with the other 5 R’s, we can do AMAZING THINGS at our schools.


Where do these thoughts come from? Well, when it comes to taking the initiative, we have no better example than God. 

8 But God proves his own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. [Romans 5:8 CSB]


Therefore, let us be the first to offer all things good.

Darren Williams

Who is DW?

What does he believe?

Fake News and World Views

One thing I have observed, recently. Our news sources have a profound impact on our attitudes and opinions. It sounds obvious, but the non-obvious part is how large the impact actually is.

We have an inflated opinion of our own objectivity.

So how does one seek the truth of current events? The only hope at getting the “true” facts versus the “fake” or “alternative” facts, is to get facts from multiple world view sources. Don’t just get your facts and opinions from multiple sources. Your multiple sources may not be multiple, but may in fact be singing from the same song sheet.

It is easy to get the “world’s” take on the facts. Every mainstream radio and TV program will give you the modern culture’s take on the events of the day. One cannot help but hear their message.

Therefore, it is imperative that you expose yourself to other views and interpretations of the same data – even and especially if you disagree with what you hear. It is critical to the hope of objectivity to hear multiple sides.

17 The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him. [Proverbs 18:17 ESV]

So here are some podcasts that discuss “News and Events from a Christian World View”. I listen to these podcasts often. I recommend them as highly as possible.

DW’s Top Three Podcasts List


Issues, Etc. – Christ Centered Cross-Focused Talk Radio

The Briefing – Daily worldview analysis about the leading news headlines and cultural conversations.

[Not available for embed, yet.]

Breakpoint Podcast – A daily Christian worldview commentary hosted by best-selling author Eric Metaxas and Colson Center President John Stonestreet. BreakPoint provides you with a short and applicable Christian perspective on today’s news and trends.

I hope these shows become a continual source of encouragement and information for you and those in your circle of influence.

May God bless you with peace and wisdom.


Mature Moral Thinkers

Perusing the books in the Visiting Scholar Office at Reasons to Believe, I came across a nice text, Thinking Well – An Introduction to Critical Thinking by Steward E. Kelly (2001, McGraw Hill ISBN 0-7674-1848-4). So I took it home to browse at the pool this evening.

I enjoyed Chapter 8 especially where Dr. Kelly expounds upon the characteristics of mature moral thinkers. In reading this section, I was struck by our current situation in the US and elsewhere. Reasoning and rational discourse appears to be completely absent from our media.

Yet, I still have hope. In my personal conversations, people are still interested in meaningful dialog. In fact, they light up when I am gracious and careful in my speech.

So to further promote good moral reasoning and gracious dialog, I quote Dr. Kelly’s list. (with very few mods)


Characteristics of Mature Moral Thinkers

Given the controversy surrounding the domain of ethics, we should say a few words about the characteristics of people who think well about moral matters. These people could be described as being morally responsible and having good moral character. And they would possess many or all of the following characteristics. (He cites, “The following list is adapted from William Hughes, Critical Thinking“)

  1. Independence of judgement

    We believe what we believe on the basis of (hopefully good) reasons, and not because it is fashionable, convenient, or the like. In this sense, the individual should be morally autonomous.

  2. Justification by appeals to principles

    All moral judgments are ultimately answerable to appropriate moral principles. If no particular moral principle supports our moral judgement, then we need to rethink our moral reasoning behind that judgement.

  3. Generalization of moral judgments

    We believe that, whenever it is morally wrong for someone to do something under a particular set of circumstances, then it is morally wrong for everyone else to do that action under those same circumstances. (Pojman’s Test of Universalizability)

  4. Consistency

    First we need to live according to the principles we have adopted. People who consistently fail to live up to their own standards are guilty of hypocrisy and will lose the respect of mature members of the moral community. Second, we should apply our principles consistently across the board. (If we believe that it is morally wrong to break the law with respect to murder, but morally OK with respect to speeding laws, we need either to show that the two cases are relevantly different or to change our thinking about one of the two matters.) Finally, the principles we adopt should be consistent among themselves. (For example, suppose Lou adopts two moral principles 1) it is morally wrong to eat meat, and 2) it is morally right to do as we wish as long as it gives us physical pleasure. The problem here is that many people get physical pleasure from eating meat, so it would be impossible for them to obey these two conflicting principles.) 

  5. Awareness of complexity

    We recognize that life/reality is complicated and that applying the relevant moral principle and gathering all the relevant facts can be complicated and even perplexing. Reality is often not as simple as we make it out to be.

  6. Knowledge of the relevant facts

    We do not make moral judgments until we have all the relevant facts in hand. (For example, for emotionally volatile issues, much arguing takes place even though the facts are either lacking or distorted.)

  7. Recognition of our fallibility

    Humans are finite and limited creatures. There is much we do not know. We tend to believe what we want to believe, and many thoughtful and morally informed people will disagree with us on any moral judgment we might make. To think that a moral judgment is correct simply because it is our own is to display a form of arrogance that is not justified. (The Greeks called this hubris.)

  8. Tolerance

    We should always respect the moral judgments of individuals who have made the effort to gather the facts and carefully apply the proper moral principle. We can significantly disagree with others yet treat them with the respect and dignity they deserve as fellow human beings.

Note that the morally mature individual may not have full possession of all eight characteristics; rather, moral maturity, like many good things, is a mater of degree. The fact that few will ever attain high moral maturity does not mean that these are not worthy ideals for which we should strive.

I hope you will benefit from this little post on the characteristics of mature moral reasoning. Let’s become examples of mature dialog and calm conversation in high contrast to the shrill shout fests on the nightly news and commentary shows.

“Come now, let us reason together”, says the LORD
-Isaiah 1:18

Some commentary

It is easy to point to someone (or several someones) in a group to discredit that group or to complain about that group. I confess that I fall into this very often. You will catch me complaining about “the media” all the time. My complaints are that “they” do not appeal to moral principles, or if they do then these principles are not universally applied to all sides of the issue. But I am personally inconsistent because I am painting a whole industry with a single broad brush.

People do this all the time with whoever is on the “other” side. Christians do this to atheists, etc. People do this to Christians as well, so I have been on both sides of the assuming game. It’s a subtle trap.

So, let’s not paint our opinions of an individual onto the group, nor the group onto the individual. But let’s also not throw out our moral convictions. Use this short list to check yourself. Present your views graciously, consistently, and with all the facts you have gathered. And then listen to your conversation partner as they do the same.


Skrewtape’s stamp of approval

Imagine my horror, when I saw this on the dark web. It appears my post on worship has gone viral there after receiving the infamous Screwtape‘s personal stamp of approval.

At great personal risk, I have copied the text of Screwtape’s response to my post. I hope it will be beneficial to you. I know I learned a lot from reading it.

An image of my post on worship with Screwtape's stamp of approval

An image of my post on worship with Screwtape’s stamp of approval

To: My pathetic colleagues including the deficient Wormwood

From: the Inimitable Screwtape, Master of Daemons and Online Trolls

Another obscure post from another unknown blogger was brought to my attention. But it worries me slightly. Let’s use it as an example of how to avoid the good and focus on the bad. There is some risk associated with Mr. Darren’s self-righteous post, but I think we can manage it if we divert the discussions in the Parking Lot and bring in some resources from the Department of Discord.

Mister Darren starts off with some noxious clap trap about love, love, and more love. Do your best to divert anyone who happens along his blog post to skim over this part. Try to tease them into thinking this lovey talk is just the normal background noise of “churchiness” and not that he REALLY loves his church, his pastors (bleh I can hardly stand to type that word), or his youth. The word “love” stinks of the enemy, and real love is intolerable.

On to the juicy parts. I would have ignored this post altogether if Mr. Darren had not identified (accidentally, I’m sure because he doesn’t appear exceptionally bright) our two main techniques for deflating the power of worshipping the enemy – that is over emotionalism and under emotionalism. (Ugh! I hate admitting that anyone could actually worship … whatever!)

Cathartic excess and adrenaline has been one of our most effective weapons, and Mr. Darren has the gall to try to shine his little pen-light of a blog on our secret machinations. This has to be dealt with.

Likewise, he turns his little pitiful blog towards our bulwark of the disconnected recitation of mumblings that the enemy’s minions call the liturgy. He rightly points out that the words in those liturgical writings are noxious to us and are focused on the enemy.

But I’m not worried about the words in their liturgy or the words in their noxious praise songs. We have human nature on our side. And that is where I would like you to focus your efforts.

I am assigning Wormwood to lead this task. Hopefully, he won’t foul this one up.

Here is the plan.

If by chance someone stumbled upon Mr. Darren’s insignificant and pitiful blog, it is ok to let them read it. After they read it begin your work, thusly. Put the following questions into their ever-so-distractable minds:

  1. How many minutes are dedicated in a so-called worship service to their favorite categories: Contemporary vs Traditional vs Liturgical
  2. Did the worship committee pick EXACTLY the same number of contemporary songs vs old songs.
  3. Why is (organ, guitar, saxophone, trumpet, piano, drums) being used? NEVER let them listen unimpeded to the beauty of any musical offering! That beauty (bleh) is from the enemy and is very dangerous to us. Instead, get them to focus on every little missed note, off pitch, etc. These people are pretty pathetic so it is always easy to find distracting bits in the mix.
  4. Why is the pastor using that story, telling that joke, behaving that way, choosing that verse? This overly critical attitude of the “laypeople” is a new tool for us, and it is bearing some excellent fruit. Do your best to eliminate any respect of the pastors because they serve the enemy full time. There’s no telling what those fellas are up to. Especially dangerous to us are those pastors who pray together with each other and their leadership teams and who hold each other accountable. Our people cannot stand to be in the room when they are praying to the enemy, so we have difficulty knowing what they are planning.
  5. Why are we (or aren’t we) offering two worship services? We can operate effectively against the enemy in either of these situations so no matter what they choose to do, we can still distract the members to be bothered by the situation.

The one thing we CANNOT allow under any circumstances, and that is to allow the members of Faith Lutheran Church or any other church to ACTUALLY worship the enemy.

Although I couldn’t bear to read all the writings and analysis Mr. Darren pulled from the so called “holy” writings, I do know he got dangerously close to equating worship with selflessness and sacrifice. This is a very delicate situation, but Mr. Darren has given you the key to distracting a devout worshiper. Notice his martyrial tone. “I will be the one to sacrifice MY desires.” Oh brother! Take this over-dramatic selflessness and insert our secret sauce – pride.

If you can have the devout worshipers become proud of their devotion, then we can derail the whole enterprise.

That’s enough for now.

Don’t mess it up!


Your First Philosophy Book

For my fellow Ratio Christi Chapter Directors who have not studied philosophy, formally, yet…

This is a reblog of RTB Scholar Ken Samples recommendation of an introductory philosophy text. He makes a compelling case. I think I’ll buy it.

Here is an excerpt, but you should read the whole article and should subscribe to Ken’s blog.

“For several years I struggled to find a textbook that would buttress my diligent efforts to teach philosophy to young men and women in a challenging and stimulating fashion. By far, the best introduction to philosophy textbook I have ever seen or used is Ed Miller’s outstanding book Questions That Matter (hereafter QTM). Allow me to explore this work by mentioning five reasons why this book is a truly exceptional textbook in philosophy.
[continue to Ken’s blog to read the whole thing…]


My favorite way to spend the day

This current blog series on Reflections is intended to encourage Christians to read more vigorously by providing a beginner’s guide to some of the Christian classics in such fields as theology, philosophy, and apologetics. Hopefully a very brief introduction to these important Christian texts will motivate today’s believers, as St. Augustine was called to in his dramatic conversion to Christianity, to “take up and read” (Latin: Tolle lege) these classic books.


This week’s book, Questions That Matter, originally written by Ed Miller and later revised with coauthor Jon Jensen, is not a Christian classic but rather an introductory textbook to philosophy. However, this is not just any textbook. This is, in my view, the very best introduction to philosophy text available today. Anyone interested in philosophy, especially Christians, should start their study of philosophy with this book.

Why Is This Author Notable?

Ed Miller holds dual doctorates in…

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Worship – a layman’s perspective

Originally penned on 8/30/2015. Due to the controversial nature of this topic I have sat on it for nearly two years. It’s time to post it and begin the discussion as carefully as I am able.

UPDATE: Be sure to read the comment stream on this post and look at Screwtape’s reaction.


My Quandary

I am in a congregation that I love, serving youth and young adults that I love, living in a neighborhood that I love, and in a denominational synod that I love.

What is missing from that wonderfully blessed situation?


I have experienced contemporary worship since I left for college in 1987. I know all the words to every Michael W. Smith, Twila Paris, Amy Grant, Rich Mullins, etc. worship song. Nobody can say I don’t know the contemporary music associated with contemporary worship. I am also familiar with Episcopal (1968 – 1987), Baptist (UT 1987 – 1992), LCMS (1992 – 1997), Methodist (1997 – 2004), and LCMS (2004 – present) theology, hymnody, and worship styles. And by visitation, I have seen Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Assembly of God worship services as well as the myriad of student worship gatherings for the Baptist Student Ministries, the Wesley Foundation, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and CRU.

I have become convinced that these worship methods are strongly targeted to the emotional side of Christianity. I have been told many times by well-meaning brothers and sisters in Christ – layman, laywomen, elders, and pastors that “churches with young people have these types of services”. I have observed this as well. But I have also seen that the laypersons’ Biblical literacy, apologetic ability, and knowledge of the basic theological tenants of the Christian faith are in a pathetic state of decay.

These two trends are related.

“What you win a person WITH, is what you win a person TO.”

– Ravi Zacharias, Christian Evangelist and Apologist

No matter what congregation you are in, pay attention to the next worship music “set” and you will see “the buildup”, “the climax”, and “the afterglow” with an occasional echo of the climax and afterglow. It is a very effective emotional technique. It produces predictable results for those who are drawn into the experience. They get lost in the experience – some laughing, some crying, some simply drowning in the endorphins.

I understand. The world is a crummy, fallen, and heartbreaking mess. We are crummy, fallen, and heartbroken. We need an escape. We need to feel absorbed in the glory of our Lord and what He has done for us. We need to forget the world and our sinful selves as we rest on the Lord’s atonement.

However, escapism doesn’t help me truly deal with Monday-Saturday issues. The Sunday morning high helps me cope. I might even get a midweek booster shot on Wednesday nights. But being won with emotionalism, I am left with emotionalism.

(Please do not dismiss my next few points because of any prejudice on your part against words like Liturgical or Episcopal. That is called the Genetic Fallacy and it prevents you from listening to my POINT because you disagree with my BACKGROUND.)

My earliest worship experiences were in St. Andrews Episcopal Church in Fort Worth, TX. This church uses the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, and the liturgical portions were exactly the same Sunday after Sunday. Yet, it was deeply moving without being escapist. I learned to read the big words in those prayers as a child. I learned what inestimable meant. I learned what presume meant. I learned that I was a miserable sinner. It seemed fitting to have a formal “you” (Thou, Thy, and Thee) which was used for God (and God alone since we do not speak this way, today).

What made this worship meaningful to me? I wasn’t sure. After a few years in the Baptist church at UT I began to miss it. I was afraid my longing for it was merely nostalgia for my childhood. Then, I visited the Lutheran Church with my girlfriend (later we were wed there). I heard similar prayers and similar portions of the service with the same strange names – Agnus Dei, Te Deum, Hosanna, etc. Something clicked. I thought growing up that the liturgy of St Andrews was written in 1928. It was not.

Fast forward in my search. Seeing the same portions in the Lutheran and Episcopal service meant the service predated the split between those two. Later I saw the same upon visiting a Roman Catholic church, meaning the service predates the Protestant-Catholic split in 1500 AD. Imagine my surprise when I visited my Greek Orthodox friend’s church and saw the same portions of the service with even the same words in the Kyrie Eleison and Agnus Dei! This predates the East-West split in 1000 AD. I was finally able to pull the thread back to the 70 AD Liturgy of Saint James – brother of Jesus, leader of the first century church in Jerusalem.

  1. K. Chesterton was paraphrased by John F. Kennedy as saying,

“Don’t take a fence down until you know why it was put up.”

The passage he was paraphrasing is:

“There are reformers who get over this difficulty by assuming that all their fathers were fools; but if that be so, we can only say that folly appears to be a hereditary disease. But the truth is that nobody has any business to destroy a social institution until he has really seen it as an historical institution. If he knows how it arose, and what purposes it was supposed to serve, he may really be able to say that they were bad purposes, or that they have since become bad purposes, or that they are purposes which are no longer served. But if he simply stares at the thing as a senseless monstrosity that has somehow sprung up in his path, it is he and not the traditionalist who is suffering from an illusion.”

What IS Worship?

At this point, it is appropriate to ask “What is worship?”

  • Is it a purely escapist emotional experience, a few readings, a message, and some cut-and-paste parts from a loose order of worship?
  • Is it a stiff and stodgy recitation of words written by the forefathers of our forefathers?

Let’s take a detour from opinions and go to the actual words of divine scripture.

From the Blue Letter Bible website

Worship in Hebrew (shachah, Strongs #H7812 is translated in the following manner: worship (99x), bow (31x), bow down (18x), obeisance (9x), reverence (5x), fall down (3x), themselves (2x), stoop (1x), crouch (1x), misc (3x)

Outline of Biblical Usage

  • to bow down
  • (Qal) to bow down
  • (Hiphil) to depress (fig)
  • (Hithpael)
  • to bow down, prostrate oneself
    • before superior in homage
    • before God in worship
    • before false gods
    • before angel

And in Greek (proskyneo, Strongs # G4352 is translated in the following manner: worship (60x).

Outline of Biblical Usage

  • to kiss the hand to (towards) one, in token of reverence
  • among the Orientals, esp. the Persians, to fall upon the knees and touch the ground with the forehead as an expression of profound reverence
  • in the NT by kneeling or prostration to do homage (to one) or make obeisance, whether in order to express respect or to make supplication
  • used of homage shown to men and beings of superior rank
    • to the Jewish high priests
    • to God
    • to Christ
    • to heavenly beings
    • to demons

Jesus linked service to worship in response to Satan’s temptation. The word for service he used is letreuo, Strongs #G3000 in the following manner: serve (16x), worship (3x), do the service (1x), worshipper (1x)

Outline of Biblical Usage

  • to serve for hire
  • to serve, minister to, either to the gods or men and used alike of slaves and freemen
    • in the NT, to render religious service or homage, to worship
    • to perform sacred services, to offer gifts, to worship God in the observance of the rites instituted for his worship
    • of priests, to officiate, to discharge the sacred office

It is clear to me from the outlines and the usages that worship is about bowing down, prostration to God, and service to Him and His wishes.

There is no hint of an emotional high. That does not mean it is emotion-free.

I have often been moved to tears through the words of the various liturgical settings in the Lutheran Church and still when I go back and visit my childhood church home. The distinction is this. The words moved me to tears, yet they were not designed to move me to tears.

The words in that service were not written to move me through any emotional arc. My emotional connection to them is rooted in what they move me to say about myself, what they move me to say about God, and what God has to say to me in His Word.

In “wordy” worship, I am being won “with words” and thus I am won “to words”.

When I need mid-week strength, I don’t need my worship song playlist. I can be fed with the pure Word of God – strengthened and uplifted by the encouraging scriptures that have been incorporated in the order of worship and committed to memory by a lifetime of recitation.

“Come unto me all who travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.”

“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”

“It is more blessed to give than to receive”

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten son, so that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish, but shall have everlasting life.”

And on, and on. (These scripture passages are at the beginning of Morning Prayer.)

One last point

Worship is about sacrifice, and sacrifice comes in many forms. For worship, we sacrifice sleep on the weekend, we sacrifice time, and we sacrifice our resources. Why is it when it comes to worship that we refuse to sacrifice our opinions about what matters in worship? Instead, we insist that WE are right and that OUR wishes are the only ones that will “keep the church alive” or will “bring in young people”.

It is unreasonable for me to ask YOU to sacrifice your opinions, wishes, desires, and yes, even emotional needs.

Unless a compromise can be found, I will do the sacrificing. I will continue to stay in a congregation that I love, serving youth and young adults that I love, living in a neighborhood that I love, and in a denominational synod that I love.

But when the cacophony and emotional arc begins I will sacrifice my preference and my need of meaningful and familiar words and hymnody. There will still be parts of the worship service that speak to me, in the readings, the sermon, the confession, absolution, words of institution, and the creeds. But even if the familiarity is taken away through weekly re-writes, I will continue to see this as my prostration, my worship, and my drink offering to the Lord. And if I get too hungry for the old words, I can always pull the LSB or Book of Common Prayer off the shelf at my house and have my own worship “service” alone with the Lord.

I do ask that I not be insulted by calling my worship “dead”. It is as alive as my Savior Jesus Christ.

Moving Forward with Hope

I appreciate our Pastors’ interest in opening the door to a discussion about worship. I would like to keep the ball moving.

Some objections to deal with up front.

The retort that people fall into a rote recitation is often used as an argument against using the service book for worship, but this is a problem with the worshipper not the words. Leadership should always encourage the congregation to engage the mind and heart when reading responsively.

The same observation can be made of people in praise services checking their phones or standing bored with their hands in their pockets during music sets. It is not consistent to use disengagement as a criticism of any form of worship.

The real issue for us is that there are two preferences in one congregation.

The Solution

The following suggestion would breathe new life into our congregation, because it is something that people have been asking for since 2005. For over ten years, many of us have been asking for a service that allowed us to know exactly what we were going to be doing and saying on Sunday morning so we could throw our full attention into worshipping our Savior.

This should not be seen in a negative light. This should not be seen as a defeat or capitulation to those immovable traditionalists. This should not be seen as creating two congregations. There are already two groups attending one service on Sunday morning and two different sets of voices on each type of music.

This should be seen as proactive service of the needs of those who need structure to their worship. This will also provide an outreach opportunity. I predict that the 8 am service will bring people in. I do not know of any no theologically conservative churches in Huntsville who have structured worship on Sunday mornings. Why can’t we provide this for the community? It is an unmet need that we can fill.

If you are worried about structured worship producing dead Christians, then I hope to allay those fears with my very life.

To worship one way or another is a matter of preference on BOTH sides. Please acknowledge that my preference is no less holy than someone else’s.

“19 Therefore, brothers, since we have boldness to enter the sanctuary through the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way He has opened for us through the curtain (that is, His flesh), 21 and since we have a great high priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water. 23 Let us hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. 24 And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, 25 not staying away from our worship meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near. ” [Hebrews 10:19-25 HCSB]

Flexibility in this area by providing two worship forms on Sunday morning will greatly “promote love and good works”, and will express the concern we have for people who are “staying away from our worship meetings” (physically or mentally).

Please receive this long text with the grace and love that went into writing it. I hold NO ill will, nor do I want a worship war. I want peace in the congregation, and I want to proclaim Christ’s love in many ways each week.


The club no one wants to join

The club of those who have lost a husband, wife, child, parent, loved one…

My sister shared this post on Facebook, and it was good. I hope you will be comforted by it. I have blogged about this here, here, and here.


What to Say When Someone Dies, By Laura Munson

No one really knows what to say to someone when their loved one dies. You can say, “You’re in my thoughts and prayers,” and maybe that’s true. Maybe you actually know what to think or pray on that person’s behalf. Personally, I’m never sure.

…Laura gives some great advice, and then she copies a letter into her blog that she wrote to her friend…

Hello, beautiful. I am thinking of you non-stop. Thank you for calling on me to be in your circle at this impossible time. I am not afraid of this, so I’m glad you called me in. I will be there for you. The books you asked for should be there by the end of the week. I will write some of the points I made on the phone here, since you asked for them. If my words on the phone were helpful, it’s only because you are open to them. I truly hope they help. Here is what has helped me and some of the people I know who have been through deep loss:

  • First of all: Breathe. I mean it. That’s your most important tool to stay in the present, out of fear, and to sustain yourself. You will find yourself holding your breath. Try to stay aware of your breath no matter what and keep breathing…in…out…in…out. Deeply if you can. Little sips when deep is too hard.

Read more… Reblogged from Huffington Post

I pray that you will reach the peaceful place that only comes from Christ. May he bless you and keep you and give you peace.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. [John 14:27 ESV]