Worship Wednesday: Consumer-Driven Worship

Worship Wednesdays will focus on a variety of thoughts, quotes, and insights -- all related to Christian worship.  Why? Because I've given nearly my entire life to Christian worship in one way or another and since I cannot shake this passion, why not share it!

Last Supper Inclusive In recent weeks I've been revisiting how contemporary culture, especially in the U.S., is driven by a mindset of consumerism. This results in the commodification of many things: our shopping lists, our bucket lists, our resumes, our relationships, and even our faith. I would like to suggest that more often than not, when things in our lives are viewed as commodities -- as products -- things almost always turn out badly. As consumers, we're trained to get what we want, how and when we want it.  We've been conditioned to believe that this is what we deserve, and when we don't get what we want, we are justified in either complaining or looking elsewhere until we find it.  Such an attitude is helpful when searching for a reliable grocer, but not so when it comes to our need to worship.  Yes, we need to worship and have been created to worship God in community with one another, but when we bring a consumer mentality with us into a worship gathering, we've already missed the boat -- so to speak.  Worship should never be about us, never be treated as a product meant to please us, inspire us, or meet our needs.  Worship is meant to be all about God -- acknowledging Him, thanking Him, surrendering to Him, serving Him, and glorifying Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. When we treat worship like a commodity -- like a product -- we dishonor and do violence to it.  Worship should never be evaluated like a head of lettuce: "it's too small, too big, not green enough, not dense enough, not fresh enough; maybe it's not even the type of lettuce we love -- we love romaine, but hate iceberg (I think you get my meaning)!" And yet consumer-driven worshipers do the same thing: "I love this song; I hate this song; not another hymn?!  Not another new chorus?! Why can't we have more _______, and less _______?!" And on and on it goes! 

So over the next few days, I encourage all of us to search our minds and hearts and come to terms with any ways that we've allowed our overly consumer-driven world to influence or affect what we think and how we act when we gather to worship God. 

Keep the "Mass" in Christmas!

Christmas worshipIt seems that year after year we inevitably hear the oft-quoted complaint: "Keep Christ in Christmas" -- and rightfully so, especially since the secularization of Christmas seems to have no intention of slowing down.  But keeping "Christ" in Christmas isn't the only thing we increasingly find missing from the true meaning of Christmas -- we also need to keep the "mass" in Christmas!  That's right, I'm talking about the "mass" -- the intentional, structured time of corporate worship.

We have forgotten (or never knew to begin with) that our English word, Christmas, is a shortening of Christ-mass -- and this, in turn, is derived from the Old English, Cristesmaesse, or literally "Christ's mass" (a term in use since 1038).  Here's the long and short of it: Christians have long celebrated the miracle of Christ's Incarnation and birth with a mass -- an intentional, structured time of corporate worship!  But I can't help but think that in today's world, we either skip such corporate worship times on Christmas, or we convince ourselves that singing a few carols just makes more sense at such a busy time of year.

This year, therefore, let's not be too quick at patting ourselves on the back for keeping Christ in Christmas.  We should also make a conscious effort to keep the mass in Christmas.  Let's make the corporate worshiping of Jesus an integral part of our Christmas practices. 

May you and yours enjoy a blessed Christ-mass!

Interview with Liz Babbs, author of "Celtic Treasure"

2008_a8 Here's a portion of my interview with author Liz Babbs about her recently released book, Celtic Treasure: Unearthing the Riches of Celtic Spirituality.

Writing “gift books” seems like such a rare yet creative approach to writing. What led you into the writing of gift books, and why have you stuck with it?

Thanks for describing Celtic Treasure as a ‘rare creative approach to writing’. I enjoy writing gift books because I can reach a much wider and more diverse readership through a gift book and it crosses the sacred/secular divide. Christians can buy any of my gift books for their non-Christian friends and they won’t feel threatened, because many folk are interested in Celtic spirituality and these books are very accessible. A gift book is also given to people for Christmas, Birthdays and to celebrate St Patrick’s Day. I’ve even signed ‘The Celtic Heart’ as gifts for Valentine’s Day! And one pastor bought copies of ‘The Celtic Heart’ for every woman in his congregation, as a Mother’s Day gift! Gift books also give me the freedom to write in a more visual and creative way, weaving in some of my original prayers and poems inspired by my travels to Scotland, Ireland, Lindisfarne (Holy Island) and Iona.

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Book Review - Celtic Treasures

CelticTreasureSometimes in life we "stumble" across amazing things -- people, places, facts, and experiences...as well as books!  And that's exactly what happened to me recently when, thanks to a Facebook connection, I met Liz Babbs - speaker, author, poet, and spiritual director.  Liz's newest book, Celtic Treasure: Unearthing the Riches of Celtic Spirituality, has just been released in the U.S.  Here's the quick review I posted about the book at Amazon.com:

Author Liz Babbs' new book, Celtic Treasure, is a strikingly beautiful introduction to the history and riches of ancient Celtic Christianity. Printed on marvelous coated stock, it is a delightful experience to even thumb through this little gift book. Despite it's smaller size and low price, Celtic Treasure is not only packed with a brief historical overview of Celtic Christian spirituality and how unique it is in contrast to most the modern Western world, but it is also packed with a devotional and contemplative richness that is deep and satisfying.

It seems obvious that this is not material the author simply researched and wrote about, rather it flows from who she is personally. Babbs has long immersed herself in Celtic Christianity, and drawn on her talents as writer, poet, and spiritual director to compose this book.

Whether it is you who is interested in knowing more about the uniqueness and richness of Celtic Christian spirituality, or know people who might benefit from a beautiful and delightful introduction of the same, this little book wins hands down.

Babbs_3 Readers of Paradoxology will certainly enjoy the blog interview I'm in the process of completing with Liz and which should post here by week's end -- so don't forget to check back!  In the meantime, check out the radio interview that Facebook friend, Keltic Ken, recently completed with Liz:


How Can We Tell the Difference?


There are many things related to our faith and practice which are a challenge to fully grasp (reductionists and simpletons may disagree).  It is my personal belief that pondering such things is always beneficial.  Here are some of the questions I have recently been thinking about.

How can we tell the difference:

  • Between the consumerization of our faith and it being expressed missionally?
  • Between deadness in the liturgy and deadness in the worshiper?
  • Between our liberty in Christ and our abuse of the same?
  • Between performance oriented worship and art-as-worship?
  • Between religious legalism and personal accountability?
  • Between social holiness and humanitarianism?


Of course, I would love hearing your thoughts on any of these.

Photo credit: © Stanislav Pobytof, iStockphoto.com

Where's YOUR Cross?

Cross_jose_luis_guitierrez_2 Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” – Luke 9:23

Despite the clear instructions of our Savior, cross-bearing is rarely seen in today’s comfort-driven culture.  We want to hear about the blessings we can have, the power we can tap into, as well as all the love, grace, joy and peace that is ours.  But when it comes to giving things up for a greater good, when it comes to denying ourselves rather than living how we damn well please, well… we tend to avoid and ignore those type of voices.  Because of our depraved human nature, we don’t like being told how to live – even when it comes from the Savior who gave his life for us.

Years before he was crucified, Jesus was already living a life of self-sacrifice – consistently choosing God the Father’s will over his own.  In part, that’s why he could insist that his disciples must live the same way.  In Jesus’ day, the cross was well-known as the instrument of execution (much like the electric chair or gas chamber today).  In parat, what Jesus meant by “take up your cross daily,” is that every day, we must voluntarily crucify any thoughts, desires, or plans that would otherwise distract us or prevent us from pursuing God’s plan for us.

When the desire rises in our heart to follow Jesus, we are, by inference, given a cross – not to hang around our necks, but to hang our souls upon.  But don’t let this frighten you. Daily taking up our cross is the sort of self-discipline whose benefits far outweigh the discomforts.

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful.  Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. – Hebrews 12:11

Are you growing dissatisfied with your quality of life?  Are you weary of trying to fix things or make things better on your own?  Jesus has already told you what you must do.

So where is your cross?  What have you done with it?  Isn’t it time you find it?  Isn’t it time you start denying yourself more often, taking up that cross daily, and following the Savior who has given so much for you?

May God help all of us to do no less.



Photo credit: © José Luis Gutiérrez, iStockphoto.com

Empty Fullness

Empty_yet_full_izabela_haburEmpty Fullness.  It's one of the most common, powerful, and yet perplexing paradoxes I've experienced.  And it's exactly what I am once again, right in the middle of.

I feel empty. Profoundly empty.  As I think about officiating at my mother-in-law's funeral this weekend, I am almost overwhelmed with my own sense of emotional emptiness.

I have no strength, no drive, no confidence -- nothing at all that I can bring to the table in order to comfort my wife's family and then deliver an eulogy and conduct a service that will touch and bless them.

Yes. This will be the fourth family member funeral that I've conducted in the past 18 months (my mom, my grandmother, my father-in-law, and now my mother-in-law), and I'm sure that this is a factor which is contributing to this emotional void I feel.  But it's certainly not the first time I've felt such things.  Over the years I have often felt overwhelmed with my own sense of emptiness -- times when I felt I had nothing worthwhile to teach, or lead in worship, or offer in encouragement or comfort to others.

Strangely, however, the emptiness is only half of this reality, and the Apostle Paul's affirmation describes it well:

Each time he said, "My gracious favor is all you need. My power works best in your weakness." So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may work through me. 2 Cor. 12:9 (NLT)

It is when I am weak, that through Christ I in fact am strong.  It is when I am empty, that I am truly full.

Today, I may indeed feel profoundly empty, but by the time of my mother-in-law's funeral this weekend, I know that I will once again experience the grace of fullness, and because of Christ, have something worthwhile and God-honoring to give to my grieving family members.

Empty fullness.  It's a paradoxical reality that, although experienced many times, continues to baffle me.

Photo credit: © Izabela Habur, iStockphoto.com

Book Review: The Luminous Dusk

Luminousdusk_cover_2 Dale C. Allison Jr's, The Luminous Dusk: Finding God in the Deep, Still Places,  is a delightfully intellectual invitation to explore and embrace our need for a deeper, more contemplative spirituality.

Although Richard Foster heads the offering of back-cover accolades, The Luminous Dusk is far from being a Foster-like book when it comes to the contemplative life. Allison takes on our culture's need for a deeply informed and reflective spirituality with amazing panache.  In today's smörgåsbord of books on contemplative spirituality, where Foster may be seen as serving up potatoes and gravy (a true staple), Allison's offering is all steak. 

Whether one is a professional "academic" or an armchair theologian/philosopher, The Luminous Dark will scratch scores of thoughtful souls right where they itch, and then beckon them into deeper and darker waters.  I am not aware of a single book on contemplative spirituality which makes a more prolific and inspiring use of both ancient and modern thought-leaders from across the spectrum of academic disciplines.  In one chapter, entitled, "Mute Angels," where he lays out a stellar treatise on the holiness of silence, Allison quotes from the likes of (listed in no particular order):

Epicurus, Philo of Alexandria, Origen, Thomas Aquinas, Ignatius of Antioch, Ephrem the Syrian, John Climacus, writer, O. Henry, mathematician, Laplace, as well as Alasdair MacIntyre, Blaise Pascal, Geddes MacGregor, Aldous Huxley, John Greenleaf Whittier, G.K. Chesterton,  Soren Kierkegaard, Max Picard, and several others.  And that's just one chapter!

When it comes to motivating folks to read this amazing treatise, Allison's own summary remarks may well serve as the most enticing of invitations:

The luminous dusk, the unspent, dark cloud of God's glory, lies beyond a door that is buried, in the words of Teresa of Avila, "in the extreme interior, in some very deep place within." Although only God's grace can open the door, we can at least do our best to stand before the doorway.  We do this by temporarily abandoning, during prayer and meditation, the world of the five sense, by declining to look at or listen to or think about the things around us.  Darkness and stillness then become our collaborators, helping us to drag our attention away from this world of divertissement to the numinous world that holds the neglected fountain of divine light...[the place where] we are remade -- and then sent back into the everyday, material world to do our mundane tasks with renewed life (Luminous, p. 178).