Christian Worship

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The Church of England has produced a very moving 60 second message – a montage of UK Christians praying the Lord’s Prayer, beginning with the Archbishop of Centerbury, Justin Welby.

They have launched a website (, and had contacted the leading movie theater chains in the United Kingdom to contract to have the message aired during previews in the month of December, capitalizing on the expected five million cinema-goers expected to view the new Star Wars movie over the Christmas Holidays.

Here’s the video (well worth 60 seconds of your time):

The cinema chains have refused to accept the advertisement on the grounds that it might “offend or upset audiences.”

Although this is not technically censorship, it is very close to its functional equivalent.

The viewing of a 60 second video, with the only the 66 words of the Lord’s Prayer, “carries the risk of upsetting, or offending, audiences.”

Here’s British actor Stephen Fry’s response:

And here’s a link to a more complete article from the Daily Mail:

Archbishop Welby’s fury at cinema ban on ‘offensive’ Lord’s prayer:
Church threaten to sue after plug pulled on advert due to be shown to millions at Christmas

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Several weeks ago, the worship leader at our church (Don Poythress) asked me if I would select 6-8 Bible readings to go along with songs for a Christmas worship service.

Thinking it would be but a moment or two of deploying my google-fu, I said, “Of course!”

I was surprised to discover that there really wasn’t any set of readings in any existing liturgy that could be quickly adapted. I checked Anglican, Lutheran, & Presbyterian liturgies (nice summaries, prayers, and meditations, but I was looking for a selection of biblical texts). I read over the text of Handel’s Messiah – beautiful, but too many texts overall, and only a portion really devoted to the Christmas story.

Eventually, I concluded that what I was looking for did not already exist.

So, I selected my own set of readings. Feel free to adapt or use in any setting you like. I used the ESV version, which I have come to appreciate more and more over the past few years. No attribution to me is necessary, but if you’d like to mention me as the editor/collector I’d be flattered.

Seemed appropriate to spend a little time, today and tomorrow, reading over these again and reflecting on them.

Reading 1 – Prophecy 1
Isaiah 9:2-7

Isa 9:2

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.

Isa 9:3

You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil.

Isa 9:4

For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.

Isa 9:5

For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire.

Isa 9:6

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Isa 9:7

Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.


Reading 2 – Prophecy 2
Isaiah 11:1-9

Isa 11:1

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.

Isa 11:2

And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.

Isa 11:3

And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear,

Isa 11:4

but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.

Isa 11:5

Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins.

Isa 11:6

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them.

Isa 11:7

The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

Isa 11:8

The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den.

Isa 11:9

They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.


Reading 3 – The Annunciation
Luke 1:26-38

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be.30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. 36 And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren.37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.


Reading 4 – Magnificat
Luke 1:46-55

46 And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,

47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.

For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me,

and holy is his name.

50 And his mercy is for those who fear him

from generation to generation.

51 He has shown strength with his arm;

he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;

52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones

and exalted those of humble estate;

53 he has filled the hungry with good things,

and the rich he has sent away empty.

54 He has helped his servant Israel,

in remembrance of his mercy,

55 as he spoke to our fathers,

to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”


Reading 5 – Joseph
Matthew 1:18-25

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel”

(which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.


Reading 6 – The Birth
Luke 2:1-7

1 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.


Reading 7 – The Shepherds
Luke 2:8-20

8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.


Reading 8 – The Wise Men
Matthew 2:1-12

1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

6 “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;

for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” 9 After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.


Reading 9 – Presentation in the Temple
Luke  2:23-40

22 And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” 25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law,28 he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,

29 “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word;

30 for my eyes have seen your salvation 31 that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,

32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”

33 And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed 35 (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

36 And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, 37 and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.

39 And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40 And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.


In between each of the readings, one or more traditional Christmas songs was sung (we are blessed with a number of very talented singers/musicians – it’s Nashville!), including Lo, How a Rose Ere Blooming after Prophecy 2, Mary, Did You Know? after the Annunciation and Don Poythress’ outstanding song, Joseph after the Joseph reading.

At the end of the service, I did a short meditation on the Incarnation, for which I used an excerpt from the Nicean Creed and two additional Bible texts from Philippians and John:

Nicean Creed (excerpt)

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.

Philippians 2:5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.

John 1:9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) 16 And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.


Merry Christmas!
And on earth, peace to men of good will.

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It’s been a day to reminisce about the Jesus Movement and the 1970s. In 1975, I was sophomore in college and teamed up with Bill Boyd (my future brother-in-law!) to host a Christian Music Show on Sunday mornings at WDAV. About all we had were a half-dozen albums by II Chapter of Acts, Larry Norman, Randy Stonehill, Barry McGuire, and later Pat Terry & James Ward. Keith Green came along a bit later.

Today, at church, we had a delightful 20 minute set by Randy Stonehill. He still has the wry sense of humor and commanding presence. “King of Hearts” brought tears to my eyes.

This afternoon, I watched “Fallen Angel,” the documentary on the life of Larry Norman. Larry was a revolutionary and a prophet and a musical genius. The movie will have its premier this week in Nashville. Here’s a preview:

More info on the film’s web site, here:

In 1978, and 1979, I was part of the Inter-Varsity graduate group at Stanford. We arranged for a public lecture by Larry Norman (he brought his guitar and played a few songs as well), and then a full-bore concert by Randy Stonehill in the auditorium on campus. Randy brought the full band and played LOUD! But we loved it. Good times.

Here’s a clip of Larry singing one of his best-known songs, The Outlaw:

Here’s Randy singing King of Hearts:

I’m afraid James Ward and Pat Terry haven’t made it to YouTube, though I suppose there might be videos out there which will eventually be uploaded. They both have their own web sites though!

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For the past several years, Cyndy has been preparing the Sunday School lessons for our church. There are about two dozen children, ages 6 to 12, all in one class. Needless to say, this has been a challenge. Cyndy has been committed to preparing lessons that teach children the stories from scripture, systematically, both Old and New Testament. I think she’s done a marvelous, creative, inventive job. And  of course, I’m completely unbiased!

Today’s lesson was from the book of Genesis. During the next 8 week segment, the kids will be going over both the Tower of Babel and the Flood sections, but today was the introductory material. You might not think there would be much for kids in the passages from Genesis 4 & 5 that cover the genealogy of the Patriarchs – but there is! There are ten figures named starting with Adam and ending with Noah. For each one the text gives their age when their son was born and how long they lived. From these figures, it is possible to construct a timeline showing how much time elapsed from Adam to Noah and the Flood.

If we take the year of Adam’s birth as 0 and then add the ages of each Patriarch to the age of their father in the year of their birth we come up with a total of 1,656 years from Adam’s birth to the Flood. But there’s more to think about here than just how much time passed. It’s also intriguing to look at how much the lives of the Patriarch’s overlapped each other. There’s also the fascinating story of Enoch, who did not die, but was taken by God directly into heaven.

To help kids see these relationships, Cyndy planned and laid out a “living timeline” for the kids on the floor of our fellowship hall.

At the start of the lesson, ten children sat in ten chairs and picked up the name of a randomly assigned Patriarch. The teacher called the first name, “Adam.” The student started walking the taped timeline at Adam’s birth, paused when Seth was born, and then continued to walk the rest of the years of their life. Then Seth was called, and so on.

There were two lines drawn across the lifelines of the Patriarchs. A blue ribbon marked the year of Adam’s death. At the conclusion of the class the students were asked, “How many of the other nine Patriarchs could have talked to Adam?” The answer is eight. The tenth Patriarch, Noah, is the first one born after Adam’s death.

When we got to Enoch, by the way, rather than walking to the end of their lifeline, we had one of the teachers wheel the student out in a chair to show that the end of Enoch’s life was different.

The second line drawn across the lifelines was red crepe paper marking the year of the flood. A very concrete illustration of the meaning of Methuselah’s name which is “after me it comes.”

The kids had a good time and the visuals really drove the point home. I was in the sanctuary doing communion at the end of our morning worship service, so I challenged the adults to go find a child from Sunday School and find out how many of the Patriarchs could have talked to Adam.

Here’s what Cyndy wrote the teachers in the teachers’ guide to the lesson:

What we want the kids to take away from all this:

An appreciation for the historicity of Scripture.

Understanding that ALL Scripture, even the “begats” are profitable.

That the genealogies show us that there an eyewitness to Eden was alive for 900 years.  This means that Noah could not have talked to Adam about what it was like before the fall, but Noah’s father could have.

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Our family has been richly blessed over the past years by being part of a worshiping community at Abundant Life Church in Mt. Juliet, TN led by a very gifted worship team. Most of the players (guys and gals) on the worship team are music professionals in Nashville. They do not need another gig on Sundays. They don’t come to perform, they come to worship with us and lead us into God’s presence with music.

The worship leader, Don Poythress, is the most gifted worship leader I have ever met. He’s an accomplished songwriter and musician, but best of all, he’s a thoughtful worshiper. It’s important to him that the lyrics be theologically correct in both tone and content. I don’t wish to be provocative, but I dislike that certain strain of contemporary worship songs which (consciously or unconsciously) takes a “Jesus is my boyfriend” approach.

You won’t find any of that on Don’s new CD, Wash Away. Officially released yesterday, it includes twelve new worship songs, written by Don and several of his songwriting partners. I highly recommend it to you.

Here’s a 3 minute video interview of Don, with excerpts from the CD:


The final song on the CD, Joseph, took my breath away the first time I heard it. It still does.

Joseph I hope to sit with you one day
Hear you tell me about the choices you were called to make
‘Cause Joseph it was you and no one else
That God trusted to take care of Mary and Himself.

On The Faithful Love of Jesus, Don is joined by the incomparable Ricky Skaggs on mandolin & vocals. The lyrics and the quiet, reflective melody are moving:

There are arms that we can lean into
That always will receive us
A living well of endless truth
The faithful love of Jesus

I pray you’ll know the love of God
The love that never leaves us
The height the depth the width the breadth
The faithful love of Jesus

Cyndy and I had the great pleasure of being in the audience at Christ Church, Nashville when this was recorded. It was a very special evening.

You can order the CD, or an .mp3, or individual songs direct from

Buy one for yourself, and give one to the worship leader at your church, or your pastor, or both.

*Don is way too modest about his accomplishments. He has had songs recorded by Willie Nelson (“You Remain”), Bonnie Raitt, Sheryl Crow, Tim McGraw (“Comfort Me”), Darryl Worley (“Shiloh”), Brian Littrell, the Marie Sisters, the Wikinsons, Leslie Satcher, Andrea Zonn, the Nashville Bluegrass Band, Niall Toner and Kieran Goss (both from Ireland), as well as the European artist Sir Cliff Richard. He co-wrote “The Promise” which was recorded by The Martins and won a Dove award in 2004.

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