November 19, 2010

Christmas Hope | Advent Devotional 2010

Advent season—where we celebrate the first and second comings of Christ—is just around the corner, starting the Sunday after Thanksgiving.  Over these four Sundays at Grace Pres, we will be exploring in the Gospel of Luke how Jesus invites us to unite to him with awe, humility, and grace.

One paradox of the holiday season is that despite the focus on joy and celebrating with family and friends, many of us are left feeling alone and miserable.  To help draw our hearts away from the distractions of seasonal busy-ness, a devotional guide is provided to celebrate in community.  The guide includes weekly Scripture readings, discussion questions, songs, and prayers, all geared toward group participation.  Additionally, there are notes on the meaning and history of Advent and a daily reading guide in case you want to reflect further on the season through Scripture.  This would be an excellent way to celebrate with your Community Group or your family (there are readings and prayers geared toward children).

Download the devotional here

Most of the material was originally created by Cardiphonia and Christ The King in Raleigh, NC, and is used by permission.  See permissions at the end of this post.  Make sure to check out the Cardiphonia blog for many more excellent Advent resources.

If you would like to accompany the singing on guitar or piano, here are links to sheet music for the songs in the devotional.

To learn more about the Advent celebrations at Grace Pres, please visit  I hope that you can join us if you're in the area.

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction.  For a web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred.  Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Grace Presbyterian Church of Silicon Valley.

November 18, 2010


do you take any steps in preparing to worship on Sundays?  like a musician practices her parts before getting together with others to make music, how do you get ready for church?

recently I have started tweeting the weekly worship set at Grace Pres, thanks to a handy function of Planning Center Online that gives a url that links to the full set, including the song listings.  you can find my latest tweet-age here.

as a worshiper, I find it helpful for me to prepare my heart and mind for worship by knowing what songs and prayers will be incorporated into an upcoming service.  if there's a song with which I'm not familiar, I might take the time to go look up the words or learn the melody (see that on the Planning Center link, there are Amazon MP3 links for many of the songs we'll be doing).

as a worship planner, I find it helpful to know what other congregations are singing.  it helps to see the frequency that songs are used, how the songs fit together in an entire set, and what new/old material is being done by ears that I trust.  one congregation I follow, Sojourn Community Church in Lexington, does a FULL blog post each week about their setlist, including prayers, scripture readings, and reflection on why each song was chosen.  I'd love to something more informative like this, but it would require more time than I can offer.  in the meantime, I'll keep tweeting away, and following the tweets of other churches.

October 11, 2010

the church's one foundation

For yesterday's musical offertory at Grace, we sang "The Church's One Foundation" in response to Pastor Drew's sermon on Unity from Ephesians 4.  The words were published by Samuel Stone in 1866, and melody was written by Brian Moss in 1996.  If you are looking for a recording, you have two great options:

Recently I was introduced to the larger work from which the hymn text comes.  Samuel Stone wrote this along with 11 other hymns that outlined the articles of The Apostles' Creed, "Foundation" being from "I believe in...the holy catholic church."  You can read more about this, as well as find a link to the full hymnal, over on the Cardiphonia blog.  (btw, Bruce's blog is a fantastic resource for all things worship and liturgy; if you want to know what I've been thinking about lately, I bet I read it on his blog first!)

September 08, 2010

flexibility in worship planning

As a church gathers to worship, the service is bound to take a certain shape. This shape is called the liturgy, or “work of the people.” Intentionally or not, most liturgies maintain a consistent form over time for a particular congregation. This is a good thing. Regular forms allow for a degree of dependability for worshipers, allowing for open communication in worship without the distraction of an always changing service structure.

At times, though, content demands an alternate form. A few weeks ago at Grace, Drew’s sermon looked at the narrative of the prophet Nathan confronting King David about his sin with Bathsheba. That Sunday, we expanded our time of confession of sin with a Litany of Penitence from the Book of Common Prayer.

Last Sunday, we extended the Lord’s Supper portion of the liturgy, taking time to reflect on the breadth of Christ’s work on our behalf on the cross. The form reflects what many other churches use on a weekly basis: Creed, Sursum Corda, Doxology, Eucharistic Prayer, Lord’s Prayer, Words of Institution. Two elements (Doxology and Lord’s Prayer) are normally placed earlier in the service at Grace, right after the call to worship. Why should these elements of content be placed elsewhere in the service?

Most elements of worship don’t have a solitary theme or emphasis. They are more nuanced than having a single application for the worshiper (think about how the words of a hymn are experienced differently when backed with a full band arrangement versus just an acoustic guitar). Placing the Dox/LP at the start of the service emphasizes God’s character (“hallowed by your name”). Placing them during the celebration of the Lord’s Supper emphasizes the response to God’s mercy and provision in Christ’s work on our behalf (e.g. asking God to provide “our daily bread” takes on a unique meaning when we are sitting at the Lord’s Table).

John Frame reflects on this:
“There is no passage or principle in Scripture that dictates one invariable order of events in worship.… Consider the doxology. Some writers are very confident that they know the place in worship where the doxology truly ‘belongs.’ But the doxology is an expression of praise to God that simultaneously calls all creatures in heaven and on earth to praise him. Surely there are many places in worship where the doxology is appropriate, not just one or two. Consider how the apostle Paul in his letters breaks off his arguments in the oddest places to insert doxologies–as in Romans 1:25 and 2 Corinthians 11:31.
A recovery of biblical flexibility here can bring a new freshness to our worship, and freshness increases intelligibility, the power of our communication of God’s word.”
John Frame, Worship in Spirit and Truth, 71-72
What other places do you think that the Doxology or Lord’s Prayer be can used in worship? What about other aspects of worship, can they be moved as well?

August 30, 2010

Daily Psalm Readings Guide

I spent part of my summer planning for a 5-part series on the Book of Psalms that I will be teaching this fall at Grace Pres SV.  In my studying, I came across a number of reading plans to go through the Psalms in a systematic way.  The simplest I came across is available in the Book of Common Prayer, which divides all of the Psalms across a 30-day cycle.

For me, this is the easiest reading plan possible... "What's today?  The Xth?  Then read Y–Z."  I'll admit that I'm not the most consistent with reading plans, so having a way to jump right in on whatever day is the best.

Below you'll find the reading list, with links to the texts in the ESV Online Study Bible (BTW an amazing free resource!).  My hope is that as I cycle through the Psalms each month, that I will become more familiar with the rhythm of the Psalms as a whole, not just skipping to the good parts.  Also, that my prayer language will increasingly reflect that found in the Psalms.  Perhaps you'll join me on this journey...

Day | Psalms
1 | 1–8
2 | 9–14
3 | 15–18
4 | 19–23
5 | 24–29
6 | 30–34
7 | 35–37
8 | 38–43
9 | 44–49
10 | 50–55
11 | 56–61
12 | 62–67
13 | 68–70
14 | 71–74
15 | 75–78
16 | 79–85
17 | 86–89
18 | 90–95
19 | 96–101
20 | 102–104
21 | 105–106
22 | 107–109
23 | 110–115
24 | 116–119:1-32
25 | 119:33-104
26 | 119:105-179
27 | 120–131
28 | 132–138
29 | 139–143
30 | 144–150

Taken from “The Table for the Order of the Psalms to Be Said at Morning and Evening Prayer” The Book Of Common Prayer, 1559

August 25, 2010

In light of last month's movie discussion on Atticus Finch and heroism, here is an article by someone thinking along similar lines. An excerpt:
Atticus teaches us that courage has nothing to do with winning. “I wanted you to see what real courage is,” he tells his children. “It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.”

Such heroism is evidence of something divine running through the DNA of humanity. A God-given courage that recognizes our actions might impact eternity more significantly than they ever will in the here and now—that we may lose the argument, the day, even the trial—but we have still advanced the kingdom. This kind of courage isn’t about winning, but making the decision to do what is right—no matter the cost.
from "Why We Love Atticus Finch", by Matt Litton

August 19, 2010

"O Brother" and the Homeric Hero

On Friday, August 27, I will be leading a discussion on "O Brother Where Art Thou?", the second installment in a series I'm calling Holding Out For A Hero, looking at different types of heroes in modern thought and how they point to our need for true heroes. (To come to the discussion, get the info here.)

"O Brother" is adapted from the epic poem "The Odyssey", portraying the homeward journey of one of the greatest heroes in all of literature, Odysseus (or Ulysses). George Clooney's character, Ulysses Everett McGill, presents the viewer with an interesting image of the modern (or post-modern) hero, even as he is based on Homer's original.

I thought a helpful way to start our discussion would be to consider the heroic qualities of Homer's two great heroes, Achilles and Odysseus. I have asked Rachel Knudsen, friend and Classics Scholar, to write the following character sketch of each hero:
The Greek epic hero is most famously embodied by not one character but two, Achilles and Odysseus. These two men are the respective protagonists of the Iliad and the Odyssey, and represent two sides of the coin of Greek epic heroism.

Achilles is the individualist: the greatest warrior of all the Greeks, he fights almost exclusively to pile up personal glory. He is obsessed with making his name and fame immortal through his superhuman feats on the battlefield. As such, he cares less about the actual cause for fighting (re-capturing Helen from the Trojans and thus avenging the honor of the Greek king Agamemnon), and more about the war as a vehicle for his own exploits. He also cares little about his fellow Greek warriors: he's willing to let them die to make the point that he is indispensable to the Greek cause after Agamemnon disrespects him. Individual glory and honor are everything to Achilles, and this ruthless mindset, along with his utter dominance at fighting, is the essence of his brand of heroism. It also leads him to the appropriate heroic destiny: an early death on the battlefield, having achieved the glory he desired more than anything else.

Odysseus demonstrates his heroism not through fighting prowess (he's an average warrior), but through cunning, understanding of people and situations, and skillful leadership. It is Odysseus' ingenuity in coming up with the Trojan Horse tactic that allows the Greeks to win the Trojan war after 10 years of fighting. Throughout the Odyssey, Odysseus uses clever speeches and sometimes even deception to get what he wants (and sometimes to escape from danger) during his long journey home from Troy. He comes up with an elaborate strategy to reinstate himself as ruler of his homeland, to reintegrate himself with his family, and to defeat the rivals to his throne who greatly outnumber him; as usual, Odysseus bases this strategy on cleverness and knowledge of human nature, rather than on brute force. He also shows great care and concern for the men he is in charge of during the voyage home: he protects them, takes responsibility for them, and sometimes even suffers because of their foolishness. As a result, he is a beloved and trusted leader of men. Ultimately, these qualities of leadership and community-mindedness allow Odysseus to achieve his heroic destiny: a long and peaceful life as ruler over his homeland, with his family at his side.
How do these heroes strike you? Are we looking for heroes in the 21st century who embody these qualities?

April 26, 2010

give reviving

the current sermon series at Grace Pres. is on Spiritual Renewal and Revival. in response to yesterday's sermon called "What Renewal Is and Isn't", the music team sang "Give Reviving", which was a fitting meditation on Drew's guidance from Exodus 33, that we seek revival for ourselves and others through praying that God would "wake [his] slumbering children".

this is a hymn written originally by Albert Midlane (19th cent.), who wrote over 300 hymns for children (many great hymns were originally written for children, and were later picked up by the adults; cf. Horatius Bonar). Chelsey Scott updated the words and wrote music along with Aaron Sands. she recorded it for the 5th Indelible Grace album (embedded here), and Sandra McCracken recorded it for her latest hymn project In Feast Or Fallow (which releases 4/27 and I will post about shortly).

Give Reviving
1. Father for Thy, promised blessing,
Still we plead before Thy throne
For the times of, sweet refreshing,
Which can come from Thee alone
Blessed earnests, Thou hast given,
But in these we would not rest
Blessings still with, Thee are hidden,
Pour them forth and make us blest!

2. Prayer ascendeth to Thee ever,
Answer! Father, answer prayer
Bless oh bless each, weak endeavor,
Blood-bought pardon to declare
Wake Thy slumbering, children wake them,
Bid them to Thy harvest go
Blessings O our, Father make,
Round their steps let blessings flow

3. Let no people be forgotten,
Let Thy showers on all descend
That in one loud blessed anthem,
millions may in triumph blend
Give reviving, give refreshing,
Give the looked-for Jubilee
To Thyself may, crowds be pressing,
Bringing glory unto Thee
Words: Albert Midlane; Chelsey Scott, alt.
Music: Chelsey Scott; Aaron Sands
© 2007 Innocent Smith (admin by The Loving Company)/Petit Bateaux Music (ASCAP).

February 24, 2010

being human in a Sci-Fi world

I came across a story in USA Today from earlier this week (via CTMovies) that looks at the recent success of Science-Fiction films and Oscar nominations for Best Picture going to Avatar and District 9. The closing quote in the article is the most profound, coming from Sigourney Weaver, as she reflects on whether either of these movies will actually win Oscars:
"With that label, 'sci-fi,' I think it'll be tough," she says. "But of course, to look at these movies with that label is to miss the points they are trying to make. These movies ask us to look at what it means to be human."
I find it interesting that a genre that might have been shunned in the past as "for the nerds" is now mainstream, but why the success now? I won't go as far as to say, "I called it", but I'm pleased that the Fall Movies @ Grace series was called "Being Human", exploring topics of humanness and authentic experience in Into the Wild, Wall-E, and The Soloist (though I had to cancel the last showing because Sarah was about to go into labor). The discussion about sci-fi after viewing Wall-E was a lot of fun, about the stark/bleak vision of the future at the start of the film and how robots demonstrated characteristics of human love and courage far more naturally than the blobular humans in the movie.

(Good/lasting) Sci-fi and Fantasy artworks typically deal with this theme, about what it means to be human. In recent years, these genres have increased in visibility and popularity. The remake of Battlestar Gallactica comes to mind as a great example. What other movies/shows/books come to mind for you? Why do you think that this has come about now, in first decade of the 21st Century?

February 16, 2010

on Lent

Today is Fat Tuesday, which means that tomorrow is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the season of Lent. Growing up, I can't say that I understood what I should do during Lent, and even more importantly, why I should be doing it. Since Lent isn't mentioned in the Bible, Christians aren't required to observe this season of fasting and self-reflection, but it is a custom handed down from the early church that we can take part in and benefit from today.

Here's a helpful essay by Craig Higgins on the why and how of Lent observance. From Higgins:
Even though a repentant spirit should mark all we do, it is still appropriate that certain times be set aside for a particular focus on repentance. The church has traditionally done this at the Lenten season...

Lent, therefore, is a time for focusing on the heart, a time for asking questions about our spiritual health:
  • What are my characteristic sins, and how can I work and pray for change?
  • What idols have captured my imagination so that my love for the living God has grown cold?
  • In what ways is my devotion to Christ and his church less than wholehearted?
The Lenten season is the spiritual equivalent of an annual physical exam; it’s a time to take stock of our lives, our hearts.
For daily Scripture readings, go here for the ful text of today's reading from the Daily Office Lectionary.