The meditations of my heart

I am currently in the process of writing a paper on “a theology of worship.” Note: a theology, not the. Thank goodness. At the same time, I have also been working on a lecture to be presented to our school faculty about the musical choices we make for our school chapel.  During this process, these words continued to come to my mind:

May the words of my mouth

And the meditations of my heart

Be acceptable in Your sight

For you Oh Lord, are my rock and my redeemer.

Psalm 19: 15

My childhood pastor used to pray these words every Sunday before he began to preach.  I wonder how often we think on these words before we sing our praises to God in worship. 

When speaking of the sacrificial system described in the book of Leviticus, late Jewish Scholar Nahum Sarna wrote, ” If the prescribed norms are not adhered to, the sacrifice is said to be unacceptable, and the harmony in the relationship between the devotee and God that it is intended to promote remains disturbed.”  (On the Book of Psalms: Exploring the Prayers of Ancient Israel, 95). We sing of a “sacrifice of praise.”  To me, there seems to be a disconnect between this idea of acceptable sacrifice and our poppy tunes – often shallow in both musical craft and theological message.  What are we sacrificing?  What are we offering? Mediocre entertainment? Pale copies of what the godless world has come up with?  I feel it is akin to offering our leftovers to a Holy God. Thanks be to God, the only necessary and final sacrifice has been paid through the blood of Christ.  Yet, in light of this (not in spite of this) should we not all the more carefully consider our praise?

What are the words of our mouth?

What are the meditations of our heart?

Could they in any way be acceptable?

As the Lord had commanded

This morning I have been reading through the end of the book of Exodus. The end of the book concludes with all the instructions for the building of the tabernacle, the garments the priests are to wear and how they will approach and conduct themselves within the place of worship.

This Moses did; according to all that the Lord commanded him, so he did. In the first month in the second year, on the first day of the month, the tabernacle was erected. Moses erected the tabernacle. He laid its bases, and set up its frames, and put in its poles, and raised up its pillars. And he spread the tent over the tabernacle and put the covering of the tent over it, as the Lord had commanded Moses. He took the testimony and put it into the ark, and put the poles on the ark and set the mercy seat above on the ark. And he brought the ark into the tabernacle and set up the veil of the screen, and screened the ark of the testimony, as the Lord had commanded Moses. He put the table in the tent of meeting, on the north side of the tabernacle, outside the veil, and arranged the bread on it before the Lord, as the Lord had commanded Moses. He put the lampstand in the tent of meeting, opposite the table on the south side of the tabernacle, and set up the lamps before the Lord, as the Lord had commanded Moses. He put the golden altar in the tent of meeting before the veil, and burned fragrant incense on it, as the Lord had commanded Moses. He put in place the screen for the door of the tabernacle. And he set the altar of burnt offering at the entrance of the tabernacle of the tent of meeting, and offered on it the burnt offering and the grain offering, as the Lord had commanded Moses. He set the basin between the tent of meeting and the altar, and put water in it for washing, with which Moses and Aaron and his sons washed their hands and their feet. When they went into the tent of meeting, and when they approached the altar, they washed, as the Lord commanded Moses. And he erected the court around the tabernacle and the altar, and set up the screen of the gate of the court. So Moses finished the work. Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Throughout all their journeys, whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the people of Israel would set out. But if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out till the day that it was taken up. For the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys. (Exodus 40:16-38 ESV)

I was struck by how many times the phrase is repeated, “as the Lord had commanded.” It is after all of these commandments are completed that the Lord descends upon His tabernacle to dwell in the midst of His people. It made me stop and wonder how often do we expect God to show up, lead us and bless us before we have done “as the Lord commanded?”

Psalm 151

O Thou my God, all peoples praise Thee and assure Thee of Thy loftiness.

But even if I do, or not, what can it signify to Thee?

Who am I, to believe that my prayer is necessary?

When I say ‘God,’ I know that I mean by this the Sole,

All-powerful, Omniscient and unimaginable One,

Of whom I neither can nor may make unto myself an image.

On whom I neither may nor can make the least claim,

Who will fulfill my most fervent prayer or not notice it.

And, for all that, I pray, as everything that lives prays;

For all that, I beg for grace and wonders, fulfillments.

For all that, I pray,

Since I would not be deprived of the felicitous sense of unity, of union with Thee.

O Thou my God, Thy grace has left us prayer as a means of contact,

A blessed means of contact with Thee,

As a bliss which gives us more than would all fulfillment.


Arnold Schoenberg


Joy has dawned

Joy has dawned upon the world
Promised from creation
God’s salvation now unfurled
Hope for every nation
Not with fanfares from above
Not with scenes of glory
But a humble gift of love
Jesus born of Mary

Sounds of wonder fill the sky
With the songs of angels
As the mighty Prince of Life
Shelters in a stable
Hands that set each star in place
Shaped the earth in darkness
Cling now to a mother’s breast
Vulnerable and helpless

Shepherds bow before the Lamb
Gazing at the glory
Gifts of men from distant lands
Prophesy the story
Gold a King is born today
Incense God is with us
Myrrh His death will make a way
And by His blood He’ll win us

Son of Adam Son of heaven
Given as a ransom
Reconciling God and man
Christ our mighty Champion!
What a Saviour what a Friend
What a glorious mystery
Once a babe in Bethlehem
Now the Lord of history

Getty and Townend

Worthy are You to receive Glory

After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald. Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God, and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal.

And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind:
the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like an eagle in flight. And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say,

“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,

who was and is and is to come!”

And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying,

“Worthy are you, our Lord and God,

to receive glory and honor and power,

for you created all things,

and by your will they existed and were created.”

(Revelation 4:1-11 ESV)

Church s/hopping…

Yes I’m back!!! My apologies for my terribly too long leave of absence. My life in between posts has involved two moves across the country, starting a new job, having a husband start seminary and a variety of other natural and unnatural disasters. The most life changing one of these being that we are going to have a baby!!

In other news, along with moving to a new place comes the horrendous task of finding a new church body to be a part of. I thought shopping for blue jeans was painful, but shopping for churches is much worse. I think that is the most painful part about the entire thing…we are shopping

We have visited mainline denominational churches, non-mainline churches, big churches, small churches, liturgical and non-liturgical, close to home and far away. We still haven’t found a place to call our home church; and a big part of that is that not only are we shopping for a church, the church is shopping for us!! During the last few months my husband and I have been the targets of some of the worst marketing developed by mankind. Not only is the marketing poorly done, I am not even sure what some of these churches are “selling.”  Social programs? Free babysitting? An easy place for networking? (after attending one Sunday school class, a woman who I had just met that day wanted to give me her card in case any of my students were looking for a voice teacher… I knew nothing about this woman; she knew nothing about me… It was our second time at this specific church and only our first time at Sunday school. I thought we were here to worship. Could we possibly save the Christian networking until later?)

At one church building we were greeted at the door by people giving out flyers to a motor rally.

“Wait, where am I? What is the purpose of us all meeting here again?”

What has added to the stress of church shopping is that even though during the week days I am generally done church shopping, the church is still shopping for me. One of the funny little cultural quirks I have noticed about living in Texas is that a very normal introductory question from someone you just met is, ” so where y’all goin to church?” In New York people ask what denomination you affiliate with, which may or may not imply that you actually attend said church, but gives an opening to an interesting discussion about ideological differences without becoming too personal. In Minnesota people ask what your dad does for a living. (The church question is not very PC in Minnesota, and besides, if you don’t look Jewish or
Muslim, we will assume you are Catholic or Lutheran…or at least you
think you are. If you were mormon you would have told us already,
no need to ask.) In my beloved home state of Minnesota, it is more likely that you will meet a stranger and talk of everything from how much you hate your job, your family’s entire geneology, and how your dating life is going this week before the question of church comes up. That will have to wait until youhave known each other for at least six months or so.

I digress. Anyway, back here in the great state of Texas,  it is not so much the reoccurrence of the “where y’all goin to church?” question that is scary to me. It is what so often is coming next. Once I tell them that we don’t know where we are going to church yet, we will be invited (and I do honestly believe with the best intentions) to such and such church that has “really cool…” you fill in the blank. Either that or I will receive an invitation to some social event or another. I don’t have a problem with “events” and “coolness” persay. It’s just that that is not at all what I am looking for. Where is the Church? The Congregation of Saints? The meeting of God’s people together with His Holy presence to remember and celebrate His past and continued interventions into the world of men? Where are His people meeting to worship?

I am traveling through the world’s shopping mall of churches, each trying to sell me what it thinks I want…trying to meet my needs and be relevant to my life…the very concept of which is ironically entirely not what I need and is entirely irrelevant to my life.

Some things never change

“There exists a vast mass of love songs of the poets, written in a fashion entirely foreign to the profession and name of Christians.They are the songs of men ruled by passion, and a great number of musicians, corrupters of youth, make them the concern of their art and their industry; in proportion as they flourish through praise of their skill, so do they offend good and serious-minded men by the depraved taste of their work. I blush and grieve to think that once I was of their number. But while I cannot change the past, nor undo what is done, I have mended my ways. Therefore, I have labored on songs which have been written in praise of our Lord, Jesus Christ.”

Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina
(c. 1525-1594)


Agnus Dei

Agnus Dei, qui tolis peccata mundi,

Lamb of God, who take away sins of world,

miserere nobis.

have mercy on us.

Agnus Dei, qui tolis peccata mundi,

Lamb of God, who take away sins of world,

dona nobis pacem.

grant us peace.

And He shall be called Emmanuel; God with Us

In honor of the Christmas celebratory events that are so soon to come upon us, I have decided to give this post an advent theme!  That, and I was inspired by the rendition of the hymn “O come o come Emmanuel,” we sang in Church on Sunday as they attempted to squish the 12th century carol into three chords and a march like rhythm driven by boom chucks on the trap set. This replete with three women singing into microphones and bopping around like they were singing “Here comes the sun doot do do do,” with egg shakers and an occasional brush of the wind chimes.  Between that and the rewritten gender-inclusive, non- militaristic lyrics, I was so distracted I had absolutely no idea what we were singing about.

For clarification, I have nothing inherently against trap sets, egg shakers or wind chimes, or even bopping women with microphones.  But seriously, stop for a minute and read these words.  What are we singing about? Who are we singing to?

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny
From depths of Hell Thy people save
And give them victory o’er the grave
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, O come, Thou Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai’s height,
In ancient times did’st give the Law,
In cloud, and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

As I was ranting in the car on the way home to my husband, he pointed out (and I believe he was right) that I can’t really hold the musicians at fault- they are not trained musically, and they are just doing with they have always done.  No song would be complete without an egg shaker. =)  But here’s the thing, whether the musicians were “at fault” or not – I still think what they were doing was inappropriate.  We were singing about the incarnation of Almighty God in human flesh come to earth to ransom His people from death and Hell.  How does boom chuck and egg shaker add to or uphold that message? Someone with a great amount of skill and musical intuition could probably make it work- but it wasn’t happening on Sunday.

I think one of the things I have been most struck with lately is that if the intention of our music is to express some truth about God and His work in the world, we must express it in a way that neither dilutes or distracts from that message.   When Christ was preaching He often said things that his “audience” did not find immediately understandable or even gratifying,  some of which we still struggle with today- “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” Whoa.  Yet, He didn’t seem trouble Himself saying, “oh, you’re right, that’s way too complicated, let me simplify, let me make that more ‘culturally relevant’ or let me make that ‘less offensive’.” He spoke what was true.  As servants of Christ, the music we make should be appropriate to the message we wish to send, music that is true.  It should be true to the message of Christ.

Inspired by my husband’s message to his youth group later that night, the next morning I read the book of Matthew, one of the places where we find that beloved quotation from the book of Isaiah, “’Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel (which means, God with us).”  If you keep reading through to the end of the book, Matthew concludes with Jesus saying, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Sometimes when you read only sections, this ending can seem kind of abrupt, but read as a whole- the book is meticulously crafted- ending where it began like perfect bookends.  God with us.  I feel like this might be an important concept, and probably not a real simplistic one. One that may not find itself well expressed with three chords, boom chucks or shoo-bop-sha-doobidoos.

Emmanuel, God is with us.  This is what Christmas is all about.  Almighty God has come to earth in human flesh to save us, to reconcile us to Himself, so that He may be with us even to the end of the age.  He wants you to know. He wants you to hear.  Don’t let the egg shakers distract you from the truth of the message.