“My prayer is that we would change the culture, our mindset, that we would arm people so that they don’t walk away from Jesus when life gets difficult, but that we arm them with a proper theology of suffering. We actually embrace it as a church because we rejoice in it. So no longer are we surprised, but we expect it, no longer do we complain when it gets difficult, but we rejoice in it, and no longer do we set our lives up so that we avoid suffering at all costs but we actually want some of it so that when Christ returns we go, ‘I am one of yours. Look at my scars; look at my life; I’ve lived the life of Christ.'” – Francis Chan

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There is a beautiful passage in Exodus 16 which describes the great love that God has for his people. YHWH has passed-over the homes of his people in Egypt, has freed them from slavery, has parted the red sea, and has brought justice to the Egyptian slave masters. The Israelites sing a song of praise for who God is and what He has done in Exodus 15 and then, just a month and a half later, there it is; grumbling in the desert.

I guess, I shouldn’t say just a month and a half later. I mean, think about it. Forty-five days in the desert? I suppose that would be enough to make most of us grumble. I’ll confess freely to times that I have grumbled when the internet is slow. Now, forty-five days in the desert. I suppose we can understand and give a little empathy to the people of Israel. They’ve been through a lot. More than what most of us have been through. And so, they grumble.

I’m fascinated by this passage for three main reasons:

(1) We have all had rival longings. I’d imagine each of us can point to a time that God was leading us on to freedom in some area, and we have had a rival longing to return to the way things have always been. Addictions, challenges, and just plain comfort. I can point to several times in my life that God was leading me in the direction of freedom and I turned back because it was just easier. Such is the nature of our rival longings. We long for freedom, but long for comfort at the same time. And sometimes, as one pastor said, “We prefer the slavery we know to the freedom we don’t know.” Exodus 16 points to the freedom that God longs to bring in our lives, even in the midst of the desert.

(2) Desert experiences become desert opportunities. At the heart of the Exodus 16 passage is the message that God can use the desert experiences of our lives in order to build our faith and draw us closer to Him. In other words, our desert experiences become desert opportunities. While our tendency is to hide when things get tough, God invites us, as He invited the Israelites, to draw near. It is precisely these times that God uses the difficulty to cause our growth and reveal His glory.

(3) We all have a testimony of what God has done in the desert. As God provided the people of Israel with quail in the evening and manna in the morning, he continues to provide the Bread of Life for his people today. The instruction was for the people to take a jar of manna and keep it in the ark of the testimony for future generations. Generations later, the author of the book of Hebrews notes the faithfulness of God throughout history to provide the way of life for His people. Jesus, who said he was the very Bread of Life has come to be the lasting source of salvation for the world. Just as future generations of Israelites pointed to the desert as a time that they drew near to God, so we can provide a testimony of what God has done the desert opportunities of our lives.

John Piper says, “It is free. Christ died in our place. He rose again from the dead. He lived a life of perfect righteousness. He stands freely available to everyone who will have him and stop working for him and start eating the bread of heaven and finding him to be more precious. Fall in love with him. Fall in love with him now. You need to love him now, know him now, Trust him now. My task on this planet is to eat the bread of heaven and be satisfied and overflow for others.” Whether you are currently in the desert or on the other side, may our satisfaction be ever found in Jesus, the eternal Bread of Life. God can use the desert experiences of our lives to build our faith and give us a closer walk with the Bread of Life.

“If there’s a God, He’s laughing at us and our football team.” – Ben Folds

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Steph Curry and the Good News

The good news is that Steph Curry knows the Good News. The regular season MVP of the NBA is clear about professing “the Man who died for our sins on the cross.” He has been outspoken about his faith in Jesus Christ throughout his career, but he admits he is “not a guy who’s going to be trying to bash people over the head with the Bible. Instead, Curry hopes to live a life of faith across the categories of his life, whether on the court or off, whether winning or losing games. Curry plainly claims, “I know I have a place in Heaven waiting for me because of Him, and that’s something no earthly prize or trophy could ever top.” That kind of foundation of faith is good news indeed, as Curry and his Golden State Warriors have just endured one of the most heartbreaking losses in NBA Finals history at the hands of LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

A foundation of faith like Curry’s has invited a variety of reactions from the sports world. This has been the case for decades, from Eric Lidell (the Olympian who refused to run on Sundays) to Tim Tebow (who was roundly ridiculed for his outward expressions of faith on the field). Sports fandom has been divided on this issue, with one side even praying for healing for Steph Curry amid the physical challenges and limitations that he has had this season. Others have rejected the idea of God’s involvement in sports, such as Aaron Rodgers saying in 2015, “I don’t think God cares a whole lot about the outcome. He cares about the people involved, but I don’t think he’s a big football fan.”

Joy and Lament in the NBA Finals

This leads us to the 2016, where occasions for joy and lament abounded in the NBA Finals. The sheer number of grown men crying on the basketball court Sunday night was a sight to behold in itself. And, as LeBron James screamed, “Cleveland! This is for you!” it was clear that the whole spectrum of emotions was on full display at Oracle Arena.

But did God have anything to do with it? Did The Babylon Bee’s fictionalized story of LeBron James praying an imprecatory Psalm against Curry actually work?

First Century Christians clearly believed that Jesus was involved in every part of their lives. In other words, Christians weren’t given the right to follow Christ in one activity and compartmentalize him another. And so Paul professed, “In Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28, NIV) And he added, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Colossians 3:23-24, NIV). And this is what Curry knows to be true: the eternal prize of Jesus Christ is of far greater worth than any of the trophies and titles that the world has to give. In that sense, Curry is right, as he is reported to have said, that he doesn’t pray to God for whether or not he will win or lose, but that God would use the situation that Steph is in for God’s glory. Now, that is a Biblical understanding of God’s involvement in sports!

The truth is that sports (like any other endeavor in life) is full of both joy and lament. It is a human past-time with the full spectrum of human emotion. You don’t have to look any further than J.R. Smith’s post-Game 7  press conference to see that! And, in that full range of emotion, there is an opportunity for God to use both joy and lament in a liturgy that shapes our souls. Steve Kerr understood this point, as he faced the Warriors after their Game 7 loss.

Kerr said, “You know, we’ve had so many moments of joy together, and it was like, wow, we’re actually having a moment of sorrow as a team. It’s a great reminder that, first of all, it’s not easy to win a championship. But, as I said, it’s life. Things happen. You move on.” And so we say “Congratulations” to Steph Curry, who knows (despite what The Babylon Bee claimed) that he can, in fact “do all things” (Philippians 4:13, NIV) through Christ after having learned the “secret of being content in any and every situation” (Philippians 4:12, NIV).

Everyday Liturgies

Such is the task that faces each of us, as we move on through the liturgies of our everyday lives. Merriam-Webster defines “liturgy” as a “fixed set of ceremonies.” This has typically been used to describe what happens in church. However, in You are What You Love, James K.A. Smith discusses the various liturgies we go through on a daily basis. Smith writes, “The point of looking at culture through a liturgical lens is to jolt us into a new recognition of who we are and where we are. This means we need to read the practices that surround us. We have to learn to exegete the rituals we’re immersed in.” In other words, the events of each day have an opportunity to shape us as human beings and as followers of Jesus Christ. And this opportunity for growth occurs whether we are in joy or lament, whether we have won or lost, and whether God is a Cleveland Cavaliers fan or not.

“Christian music makers have to risk new ways of praising God. Their faith must convince them that however strange a new offering may be, it cannot out-reach, out-imagine, or overwhelm God. God remains God, ready to swoop down in the most wonderful way, amidst all of the flurry and mystery of newness and repetition, to touch souls and hearts, all because faith has been exercised and Christ’s ways have been imitated. Meanwhile, a thousand tongues will never be enough.” – Harold Best

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The instructions in Psalm 96:1-3 are clear: “Sing to the LORD a new song; Sing to the LORD, all the earth. Sing to the LORD, bless His name; Proclaim good tidings of His salvation from day to day. Tell of His glory among the nations, His wonderful deeds among all the peoples.” But, what does it mean to sing to Him a song that is “new?” The Hebrew word used in the passage for new (transliterated “chadash”) has the connotation of something “fresh.” This means, by way of application, that the songs sung to the Lord need not be brand now. But rather, these songs should be song in a way that is fresh to the Lord. This, of course, is good news to the fans of the old songs (however you may define them). In his book, Music Through the Eyes of Faith, Harold Best, rightly notes that there are a variety of ways that one might accomplish singing a new song to the Lord. One might sing an entirely new song to Him. And today, there are fantastic songs being written in praise to the Lord. One only needs to peruse the material that has come from Keith and Kristyn Getty to know this! Best also suggests that Christians learn to sing old songs in a fresh or new way. In other words, even if you have sung “Holy, Holy, Holy” a thousand times, you recognize that this phrase will never stop being proclaimed for all of eternity (see Revelation 4-6). A third way that a new song can be sung is with a posture of the heart. The Christian responds to God’s glory with a consistent longing and desire to walk towards God. In this way, the soul takes up a posture of fresh worship on a daily basis, as even the “heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1). May we, with this posture, daily sing a new song to the Lord!

“We should think of Christian discipleship as being similar to learning an entirely new language.” – Michael Horton

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First among words in the worship vocabulary that have been lost in recent years is the word, “ascribe.” The name of the site is Ascribe Site. This is due, in large part, to the fact that the word “ascribe” has been virtually lost from our vocabulary. Even in faith and worship circles, one will rarely hear the word and gain an understanding of what King David has in mind. 1 Chronicles 16:28-29 says, “Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name; Bring an offering and come before Him; Worship the Lord in holy array.” This hymn to the Lord, repeated virtually verbatim in Psalm 29:1-2, gives a fantastic perspective of what is going on when God’s people worship Him!

The Hebrew word for ascribe in I Chronicles 16:28-29 is יָהַב , transliterated “yahab.” The simple translation of the word is “give.” But, the better translation is this word “ascribe,” which gives a closer perspective of David’s intention in the passage. Ascribe has the connotation of giving what is already owned. When you ascribe something to something (like “glory” to the “Lord”) you are describing what the object already possesses. In other words, to ascribe glory and strength to the Lord is to give these attributes to the One who already has them. Thus, David gets at this when he says, “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name” (I Chronicles 16:28). He is saying give to God what is already His!

This is particularly important when considering the pattern of worship of God’s people. Throughout Scripture, God reveals Himself and His people respond in praise for who He is. In this way, God does not need the praises of His people, nor do the praises of His people make God who He is. Rather, God’s people ascribe to Him what is already true about Him. He is Holy! He is Love! He is Good! He is True! In ascribing these attributes to God, His people make known among the nations His great glory and in fact, His being God.

May we ascribe the glory due to God today, in our thoughts, deeds, actions, and yes, in our words!

“The more our churches move away from immersing us and our children in the basic language and categories of Scripture, the more it essentially becomes a kind of foreign language to all of us.” – Michael Horton

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When I say, “Welcome,” I mean that I am glad you are here. I am thankful that you would take the time to read the ideas on this blog and I am hopeful that you will feel invited to engage and interact with them. This is a blog about the vocabulary of the faith, particularly as it applies to the worship of God.

In recent years, much of the language that is used in church services has become a caricature. The result has been that, in many places, the church has backed away from using language that would make visitors or non-Christians feel uncomfortable.

The unfortunate result of this trend has been that much of the language that is used in the Bible to describe our faith has lost its effectiveness in our local congregations. In removing the biblical terms for faith and worship, the church has removed a vehicle for communicate the deep truths and doctrines of the Word of God.

William Willimon, bishop in the United Methodist Church, said, “There is a peculiar sort of untranslatability to the Christian faith…that you just haven’t said salvation when you say self-esteem…and you haven’t said the Good News of Jesus Christ when you’ve said I have found a way to help your marriage work.”

What is at stake is an ability to effectively communicate what is meant by faith in God at all! Romans 12:1 says, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” If the church is willing to take Scripture as the ultimate truth of God, it must be willing to communicate that truth is clearly and effectively as possible. In this way, the church has a prime opportunity in its corporate worship services to recover and reclaim the lost language of worship, in such a manner that the disciples of Jesus Christ are being called into a living faith of active obedience and worship.

And so, this blog is about faith. It’s about worship. It’s about the language that Scripture uses to inform our faith and worship. It’s about the culture that engages in worship. My hope is that it becomes an encouragement to you as you offer your very selves to God in worship.