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Church on Fire
In Defense of the Faith
Wednesday, October 25, 2017
Wendy Wipple

Today’s passage is Psalm 13, which commands all servants of the Lord (that should include everybody reading this today) to bless the Lord. But what does that really mean? We say “bless you” when someone sneezes. When we say that we “blessed a fellow Christian” it often involves an exchange of cash. But exactly how do you bless the Lord? It’s a command, right? Shouldn’t we know?

I was raised Presbyterian, but only in the sense that it was my mother’s childhood faith, so… that was the church we never went to. Just out of college, my best friend married a guy whose father was a Presbyterian minister, and my first conversation with Rev. Alford involved him telling me that the Bible says that Presbyterians will be the first ones in heaven.

The puzzled look on my face encouraged him to give me the punchline: “Yep, The bible says (in I Thess 4:17), that the dead in Christ will rise first.”

Very funny.  The conversation did serve, however, to confirm my general impression of Presbyterian worship, based on the limited exposure I had.

Not that it was necessarily a problem. My mother’s years as an enthusiastic Presbyterian ended upon meeting my father, who, although a very principled man, had no need for religion. What remained from her upbringing by the time I was in my formative years was a healthy disdain for any emotional displays in church as well as the denominations that tended to  practice them. All those “Holy Rollers”, in other words.

In any reputable church, according to my mom, you stayed in your seat and kept your mouth closed. Unless you happened to be singing one of the two or three sedate (and largely doctrinal) songs out of the obligatory hymnal.

For whatever reason, my fear of my mother’s fear and disdain of any visible emotion or enjoyment of worship was something that stayed with me for a long time. And actually feeling a palpable presence of the Lord while worshiping? That was only something those Holy Rollers would pretend to claim.

Eventually, however my husband and I landed in a church that had a really good Worship Band. And things began to change.  

There is a scripture song which consists of  Psalm 134 put to music, and I have sung that song now for thirty years.

(Ouch)

I love that song, and in whatever Bible version from which the lyrics were taken was written, the song goes like this:

Behold bless the Lord. All servants of the Lord. Who serve by night in the house of the Lord. Lift your hands to the sanctuary and bless the Lord.

Notice that it’s a command here, actually, to lift your hands to the sanctuary as an act of worship. The Hebrew word translated “bless” in this verse is the word "barak”. And it means to adore, to kneel to, to praise.

Thus the command to lift your hands to the sanctuary and praise and adore the Lord.

Another psalm, Psalm 150, makes sure that we also understand that enthusiastic worship is A-OK in God’s worship rulebook.

“Praise God in His sanctuary, Praise Him in His mighty firmament! Praise Him for His mighty acts; Praise Him according to His excellent greatness! Praise Him with the lute and harp!3  Praise Him with the sound of the trumpet; 4 Praise Him with the timbrel and dance;Praise Him with stringed instruments and flutes!5  Praise Him with loud cymbals; Praise Him with clashing cymbals.  Let everything that has breath praise the Lord."

It’s not only OK to worship enthusiastically, with hands raised, with loud music, not sitting sedately in your favorite pew, it would seem to be a commandment!

Not unseemly, mind you. The Bible tells us to “Let all things be done decently and in order.” (Corinthians 14:40) Enthusiastically, as in, “With all your heart soul, strength and mind.” No rolling on the floor or anything. It’s a Baptist church.

My own congregation (many of whom do worship enthusiastically—generally from the front rows) have helped me shed my inhibitions and really let the music bring me into the presence of God. And on one recent Sunday, I gotta say, as a congregation we kind of outdid ourselves.

We were barely into a crowd favorite by Hillsong United, “Oh Praise the Name”.

The lyrics go like this:

“I cast my mind to Calvary,Where Jesus bled and died for me. I see His wounds His hands His feet, My Savior on that cursed tree.

His body bound and drenched in tears, They laid Him down in Joseph's tomb. The entrance sealed by heavy stone, Messiah still and all alone”

The volume then swelled with a familiarity with  the chorus: “Oh Praise the name of the Lord our God, Oh Praise his name, forevermore, for endless days we will sing God’s praise, Oh Lord, Oh Lord our God”.

And then, abruptly, a horribly, really really loud, repetitive screech. The fire alarm had gone off. And we’re in a school (with a new building in progress), so that alarm was extra loud.

But the coolest thing happened.  Nobody cared.

Nobody in that auditorium did anything differently than they had been doing sixty seconds earlier.

Scratch that. There was one difference. We all got louder.  In that single instance, with one mind, the whole congregation resolved to drown the thing out with praise. And an overwhelming awareness of the presence of the Lord carried all of us, many weeping (including me) to the song’s normal finish.

Only then did anyone move.    

To be honest, although I certainly recognize the verse, I never really thought about Psalm 22:3 in context during all those years I was sitting stoically in the pew, singing at an acceptable volume two or three songs out of the obligatory hymnal that  (although they offered solid doctrine) weren’t really songs that focused on worshiping and adoring God.

Here’s the thing. The Bible says that God inhabits the praises of his people: “But you are holy, you who inhabit the praises of Israel”. Psalm 22:3

When we sing praise to God, we should expect His presence. He inhabits the praise of His people.

Here’s the kicker.  We had started, that morning, a brand new series on the power and practice of prayer, and had a great kickstart to the service with a few more worship songs to begin with. It had been a great and powerful service already . And maybe, just maybe. Ol’ Scratch decided to try to cut his losses by shutting things down. Who knows?

If so, it backfired. Bigtime.

When the roll is called up yonder you and I will sing his praise, for endless days.   Now that’s something to think about!

About Wendy Wippel

Last week: How the Creator God Plays Craps



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