Pastor's Blog

-- Duty to humanity is easy compared to duty to your neighbor.

-- Ron Swanson, the caricature of a conservative on "Parks & Rec" once said, "History began on July 4, 1776. Everything before that was a mistake."  The more I hear progressives on the left, the more I am convinced that they would say same thing -- except their date would be March 4, 1933 – FDR’s inauguration.

-- What kind of memories will kids have who spend so much time every day merely playing video games?

-- I recently heard evangelical churches compromising with leftist politics referred to as “evan-jello-ism”.

-- Regarding YouTube videos like “Ten Interesting Facts about Darth Vader’s Suit That You Didn’t Know”:  They do understand Star Wars is fiction, right?

-- The cost of gender reveal parties is going up, since apparently you now have to hire a professional biologist.

-- When you read comments sections of social media it is clear that our society either approves of hate speech or doesn’t understand what it is.

-- I recently hit an indecisive squirrel with my car.  I kept going but glanced in my rearview to see the guy behind me swerve wildly to miss a dead squirrel.

-- My wife shared with me an article by a pediatric neurologist who was sounding the alarm about the awful state of children’s mental health.  After listing horrifying statistics about suicide for pre-pubescent and teenage children and skyrocketing mental illnesses among these age groups, this doctor provided a prescriptive solution:  less screen time and more active play, emotionally supportive parents, family dinners and meaningful conversation.  In short – everything that was common sense parenting in 1965.

-- Whenever someone says, “We still have a long way to go” regarding progress on a troublesome issue, we need to ask, “Exactly how far?”

-- Repentance doesn’t always come with anguish and tears.  I have often found myself coming to repentance with laughter at myself, my eyes having been opened to the absurdity of my own blind stupidity.

If you’ve had any exposure to evangelicalism, you’ve probably seen people raising their hands or waving their hands in the air while they sing songs.  A few people at our church do that, but most do not.  So, what’s going on with that?

In the ancient Near East one could “lift one’s hand(s)” to swear an oath (Gen. 14.22; Deut. 32.40) or to take action either for or against someone (2 Sam. 20.21; 1 Kgs. 11.26;  Ps. 10.12).

Most commonly it was the stance for prayer (Ps. 28.2, 141.2 cf. 1 Tim. 2.8) or pronouncing blessing (Ps 63.4, 134.2 cf. Luke 24.50).  It was done while standing – looking to heaven, eyes open, arms spread wide and lifted above the head, palms open upward, signifying either the lifting up of one’s prayer to God in heaven or on some occasions depicting pleading, imploring, or begging (e.g. Lamentations 2.19, 3.41).

If you were raised in one of the “high church traditions” (e.g. Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Anglican/Episcopalian) you probably recall priests praying exactly this way.

My knowledge of history is hardly exhaustive (whose is?), but to my knowledge “lifting up the hands” was never connected with singing.  I think that’s a novelty of the late 20th century.

I guess you can do that to “offer your song to God”.  Or not.  Does it matter?

What has bothered me more than anything is that some people seem to measure spirituality or fervency for God or the presence of the Spirit of God by whether or not a person (or a church) by whether or not one “lifts up hands”.

I’ve referenced above almost every occurrence of the phrase “lift up the hands”.  It is hardly a central issue in the Bible.  If we are going to speak of the biblically prescribed posture of worship, it would seem to be bowing down, face to the ground (e.g. Neh. 8.6 – which also mentions lifting of hands in blessing to God).

On a lighter note, if you want a humorous take on this matter, check out Christian comedian Tim Hawkins’ two and a half minute YouTube video entitled “Tim Hawkins on Hand Raising”.  Sometimes laughter is good medicine.

My granddaughter Lucy recently learned to wink.  She shows everyone her new skill and everyone winks back at her.  It gives everyone a chuckle.

But depending where you are (and “when” you are) and depending on who is winking and who is being winked at, winking can carry very different meanings.

We wink to indicate that there was irony, teasing, or an inside joke.  Winking can also be flirtatious with a wide spectrum of intentions.  Flirtatious winking can be casual and silly.  It can also be egregiously vulgar and insulting. 

In some West African cultures, adults wink to get children to leave a room.
In ancient Israel a wink indicated the plotting of evil (Ps. 35.19, Prov. 6.13, 10.10).

Winking is one small form of body language.  I could have used many examples –forms of greeting, ways to point at things, ways to hand things to people, ways to sit, uses of the eyes – as all of these things differ from culture to culture. 

Body language is more caught than taught; it is almost intuitive – until you cross cultures.  When people use body language differently than we “learned”, it is easy to miscommunicate, misread, and misunderstand.

Body language is, I believe, responsible for much of the conflict in the evangelical ‘worship wars’.

Traditional Christianity has seen worship as a matter of revering God’s highness (transcendence).  All of the body language is designed to communicate reverence for God and humility before God.  It is a body language of “reserve” – stillness, silence, self-control, sobriety.

Evangelicalism’s Holy Spirit movement sees worship more as the celebration of God’s nearness (immanence).  The body language is designed to communicate excitement and joy in God’s presence.  It is the language of celebration – energy, clapping, cheering.

To the traditionalist, contemporary worship seems like an out-of-control free-for-all – more like a wild concert or a party than the worship of the high and holy sovereign God.

To the lover of contemporary worship, traditional worship seems emotionally stifled, overly pessimistic, and lacking any genuine feeling toward God.

Our struggle is how we read people in the social context of worship because we read hearts through what bodies are doing – and we either express differently than another or we find certain expressions ‘inappropriate’. 

God can see the heart apart from the body.

Perhaps our mistake is trying to limit worship to one pole or the other?
Perhaps we should be seeking more of a both/and instead of an either/or?
Perhaps there is a time to explode with celebration of praise at God’s work among us and other times to be still, soft, and sober as we contemplate God’s highness?

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