Saturday, August 8, 2020

Remembering Nagasaki

On August 9, 1945, the US Army bombed Nagasaki, Japan. It was the second, and last, time a nuclear weapon was used in warfare. The bomb, code named Fat Man, was a plutonium weapon, somewhat more powerful than the uranium one (Little Boy) deployed over Hiroshima just a few days earlier. However, due to the uneven terrain of Nagasaki, there were fewer casualties than in the first attack. The flatter Hiroshima lost around 100,000 people, compared to 70,000 in the second attack. These twin bombings effectively ended the war in the Pacific, preventing an Allied invasion of the Japanese islands. Japan announced its surrender on August 15.

All warfare casualties are tragic, but the attack on Nagasaki seems especially arbitrary. Japan had decided not to surrender after the bombing of Hiroshima, figuring that the US had additional bombs to wipe out only two more cities—losses the empire could afford to absorb. But Nagasaki was not at the top of list of potential bombing sites for the second attack. Kyoto was a more strategic target, but it was removed on a nostalgic whim: US Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson had honeymooned there several decades earlier and had fond memories of the place. Then on the morning of August 9th, problems with the plane's fuel pump caused  the crew to divert to Nagasaki instead of the intended target of Kokura.

The bomb that ripped Nagasaki apart also devastated the Christian church in Japan. Nagasaki was the center of Christianity in that country; it was where missionaries from Europe brought the gospel in the 1500s. During the intervening centuries Japanese Christians in and around Nagasaki had persevered under repeated and extreme waves of persecution from leaders who sought to eradicate their faith, perceived as a Western influence. Among the numerous causalities that August morning was Urakami Cathedral and all those who were worshiping inside.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Worship Language #4: Sacramental Worship

For those who speak "Sacramental" as their primary worship language, the encounters with God in baptism and the Lord's Supper are the focal points of what all of worship is about. This is often accompanied by a strong sense that the order of worship should stick to an underlying pattern—that a worship service should have preaching (Word), followed by Communion (Table). This follows a commitment to the four moves of the service, starting with Gathering and ending with Sending, with Word and Table in the center.

Signs that you might speak Sacramental as your primary worship language:
  • Luke 24:30 is a key verse in understanding how Christians should worship. Jesus's actions of taking, blessing, breaking, and giving the bread are models for how all worship services should be structured. In other words, these four actions reveal an outline for worship in general, not just for what happens with the bread when Communion is celebrated.
  • Documents from the church's first 400 years provide a special model for how worship should be done today. If this is your primary worship language, then modeling today's worship after some of these ancient documents is the key to renewing the church's worship.
  • If you speak Sacramental as your primary worship language, you probably place a high priority on getting people to do the actions of worship, in the right order. Emotions and faith follow the right actions, they don't drive them.
  • Perhaps this one is obvious: you like to take Communion, a lot.
This perspective tends to predominate in Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, and other mainline Protestant circles.

Check out these books from a Sacramental Worship perspective:

Holy Things by Lutheran Gordon Lathrop is a liturgical theology built on the assumption that the church's worship is at its best when structured around ancient forms and patterns.

Constance Cherry, a United Methodist, lays out the four-fold structure for services in The Worship Architect. For Cherry, all worship services should have a significant portion in which the congregation responds to God's revelation. This can be accomplished by taking the Lord's Supper, but there are other elements that can fill this role. Whether one celebrates Communion or not, that responsive section of the service should be there.

Robert Webber's book, Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail (originally published in 1985 and revised by Lester Ruth after Webber's death), follows those who have changed their primary worship languages from Biblical Worship to Sacramental Worship.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Worship Language #3: Gap Worship

"Gap Worship" is a language spoken by people who want to bridge cultural barriers in order to win converts through relevant worship services.

Some have said that 16th-century Protestant Reformer Martin Luther called for setting Christian hymn texts to secular tunes. Two centuries later, the Wesleyan revival included robust congregational singing of easy-to-learn songs. (The degree to which those melodies were actually borrowed from popular secular songs, such as "drinking songs," is debatable.)

Charles Finney was an 19th-century evangelist who used "new measures" to move people toward conversion in his revival meetings. This included several methods of increased cultural awareness such as using colloquial forms of speech and extended times of singing to prepare people for the upcoming sermon.

The use of popular music forms was an instrumental (pun intended) part of William and Catherine Booth's founding of the Salvation Army. William actually saw the use of music as a spiritual and strategic tool: "I rather enjoy robbing the devil of his choicest tunes, and, after his subjects themselves, music is about the best commodity he possesses. It is like taking the enemy's guns and turning them against him."

The Church Growth movement, begun by American missionary Donald McGavran in the 20th century, was founded on communicating the gospel in culturally intelligible ways. While it did not originate as a movement of worship renewal, many people applied Church Growth principles to music and singing. Congregations like Willow Creek Community Church saw popular music as one of the primary ways to draw unchurched people into their services.

Gap Worship is the primary language spoken by several varieties of evangelical churches, and it is prominent in many pockets of mainline denominations.

Here are some signs that "Gap Worship" might be your primary worship language:
  • Your key verse is 1 Corinthians 9:22: "I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some."
  • You see a clean break between the worship of the Old Testament and the New Testament: while the Israelites were bound by rituals and sacrifices, Christians are free to worship (more or less) however they choose. You may even read John 4:24—that we should worship God in spirit and truth—as a key description of this freedom.
  • You cite the overall lack of verses about worship in the New Testament as a rationale for using whatever cultural forms are most effective at winning unbelievers.
Note: The ethnodoxology movement, which seeks to use traditional arts and music in worship, fits within a gap worship framework.

Here are some books that present a "Gap Worship" mindset:

In 1996 Walt Kallestad, a Lutheran pastor, wrote Entertainment Evangelism to argue that the church needs to incorporate more popular forms from the culture. The opening quote of the book is from Walt Disney.

Zero to 80 by Olu Brown applies Church Growth principles to worship. For instance, his Impact Idea #58 is named: "Look to Culture for Creative Worship Sparks."

It's also worth mentioning church growth consultant Lyle Schaller. He wrote dozens of books for congregations seeking to grow in size. While none of them were focused solely on worship, many of his tips were about scheduling and planning services so that they would reach and accommodate as many people as possible.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Worship Language #2: Gift Worship

The worship languages of Gift and Gap are related. These names come from Lester Ruth, professor of worship at Duke Divinity School, who came up with them as a way of understanding the history of the Contemporary Praise and Worship (CPW) movement. A "gift" view of worship sees the 20th-century contemporary styles of worship music as just that: a gift from God for the renewal of the church. The "gap" perspective tends to view CPW music as an opportunity to win new people to Christ, thereby bridging a cultural gap.

The gift language of worship is widespread among Pentecostal churches and others influenced by the charismatic renewal movement of the late 20th century.

Here are some signs that Gift Worship might be your primary worship language:
  • You make a distinction between praise and worship. Praise is a style of exuberant singing that often comes at the beginning of a service. "Praise songs" tend to be upbeat and focused on who God is and what God has done. "Worship songs" tend to follow praise songs in a music set, and they are often slower in tempo and more introspective. (This distinction between two kinds of songs—a faster and upbeat praise style, followed by a slower worship set—is not as predominant today as it was in the 1990s.)
  • Two verses from the Psalms are your touchstones for describing worship: Psalm 22:3: "You are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel"; and 100:4: "Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise." For "gift worship" folks, these verses are commands for how we should approach God. In other words, praise is something that a Christian must do to be faithful to God.
  • You see the wide-spread use of band-based styles of contemporary (or modern) worship as a God-ordained means of bringing the world together. The success of popular CPW songs from the US, UK, and Australia is a sign of God's anointing on them. If this is your view of worship, you are probably not so concerned that these songs might replace or crowd out indigenous expressions of local churches in various places around the world.
For a perspective of gift worship, check out these books: 

Extravagant Worship by Darlene Zschech, a worship leader from Hillsong in Australia, is about the role of worship in the energetic renewal of one's own spiritual life. Like with the Biblical Worship language, Gift Worship literature encourages people to see their everyday activities as worship, not just what happens in church.

The Unquenchable Worshipper by Matt Redman, the popular songwriter, also links modern worship music to personal renewal, especially as it affects one's emotions.

Worship Matters by Bob Kauflin argues that contemporary worship principles will lead to a renewal of the church.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Worship Language #1: Biblical Worship

 If "Biblical Worship" is your first worship language, you probably talk about corporate gatherings as a way to fulfill scriptural mandates. You likely do this by quoting specific chapters and verses in the Bible and interpreting them as explicit instructions for how the church ought to worship today. This often linked to a "plain reading" view of the scriptures, where you see instances of worship in the Old and New Testaments as clear models that should be (within reason) copied for today.

If Biblical is your primary worship language, then the following might be true:
  • When assessing worship, you take a full sweep through the Bible—from Genesis to Revelation—to look for practices and principles that can be applied to your current-day worship services. You may even have a chart or list of verses that is organized in that manner, running from the beginning to the end of the scriptures.
  • You speak about correct and incorrect (or true vs false) kinds of worship. The verses that you pull from the scriptures are divided into two categories: good examples of worship and bad ones. Again, you may have charts with columns that divide up these examples from the Bible.
  • You talk about false worship as idolatry. Your column of bad worship examples in the Bible includes various passages from quite different contexts, from the golden calf (Exodus 32), to Uzzah's mistake with the ark (2 Samuel 6), to those who take the mark of the beast (Revelation 13).
  • Worship extends beyond the gathered body of believers. In other words, you probably describe worship as encompassing "all of life" and quote Romans 12:1 (probably in the NIV) to support that. Worship is meant to be something that you take with you from the church into the rest of your life.
This is the primary worship language used by a wide variety of evangelical churches. It's no surprise that you would find it among folks who hold a high view of scripture and have an assurance of their own ability to read and understand it.

For a perspective on this worship language, check out these books:

Engaging With God: A Biblical Theology of Worship by David Peterson takes a full sweep through the scriptures, starting with Genesis and going through Revelation.

For the Glory of God by Daniel I. Block disagrees with some of Peterson's conclusions, but the two authors share the assumption that the Bible can be read as a playbook for how churches should worship.

Called to Worship by Vernon Whaley takes a comprehensive sweep of biblical passages on worship, which the author claims is a task that includes every aspect of a creature's life.

A brief note: The late author Robert Webber often used the phrase "biblical worship," so you may wonder why he doesn't appear on this page. While Webber was indeed fluent in this language, his primary worship language was Sacramental. In fact, he is a good example of someone who changed  primary languages; growing up evangelical (some might say fundamentalist), Webber learned Biblical Worship. Later in life, as he studied the worship of the early church, he began to center more of his theology in the practices of Communion and baptism. Webber eventually became a primary proponent of Sacramental Worship, although he never forgot how to "speak" in Biblical Worship.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Worship Languages

In his Confessions, Augustine describes two different ways of learning a language. One is how we usually acquire our first: in the home, picking it up naturally as we hear it spoken by family. This is often called our "mother tongue." Augustine's first language was Latin, which he describes as learning "with no fear or pain at all" (Book I, chapter xiv (23)).

The second way one acquires a language is at school. In contrast to the joy of learning our mother tongue, Augustine says this academic method of learning created "violent pressure on me to learn [words] was imposed by means of fearful and cruel punishments."

Learning a second language need not be that painful, but it is always different from the way we learn our first. That first one usually remains our primary language throughout life, shaping the way we think and providing the scaffolding for our ideas and emotions. Picking up another language in later years always involves discipline, and we never cease to perceive that additional language as a foreigner.

The same is true about the way we think about worship.

Each of us has a primary "language" of worship. I'm not referring to the various styles and forms that we prefer: high church versus low church; traditional versus contemporary; long service versus a shorter one; organ versus guitar. I mean that each person has an underlying reason for what worship is all about. It's how you answer the question, "Why bother to worship at all?"

I find that Christians fit into four primary language groups that define their fundamental assumptions about what worship is supposed to do:
  1. Biblical Worship: the Bible is the primary worship textbook, providing instructions for right (and wrong) ways to worship.
  2. Gift Worship: renewed forms of worship, especially music, are given by God as means to renew the church and the world.
  3. Gap Worship: worship services are for building bridges between church and the world and drawing unchurched people into Christian fellowship.
  4. Sacramental Worship: the Lord's Supper and baptism are the models for how all worship services should be structured.
Like an actual language, we have a special affinity for the first worship language we learn. It never leaves us, even as we acquire—and perhaps become fluent in—other worship languages; you will always an "accent" that serves as an indelible marker of your "heart language."

Most of us are multi-lingual when it comes to how we understand worship, so it is helpful to untangle some of the influences behind our own personal histories. Check out the links above to read more about each type. In the process you may uncover some aspects about your spiritual influences that you had not recognized.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Christians are People Who Intercede

Christians pray for others. There is no form of our faith—whether ancient or modern, in any part of the world—where intercessory prayer is not a key aspect of worship. There is a profoundly theological reason for this: Christians believe that worship happens in the presence of Christ, and where Christ is present, so are the needs of the world.

Consider how we celebrate Communion. Christians believe that Jesus Christ is present at the table. (Just how he is present is a matter of considerable debate, but that's a subject for another time.) Remembering that the Son is incarnate—that is, a joining of the Creator with creation—Communion is an act of God meeting the world. We celebrate that joining by eating and drinking ordinary bread and wine together.

In Communion we also see how God takes on the world. Our worship is therefore a way to acknowledge that God bears the wounds of the world, even the effects of sin and death that surround us. Just as the body of the risen Christ bears the scars of his torture, so God bears the particular needs of the people. The bread which is broken at the Communion table represents our Lord's solidarity with the world that is being torn apart by war, racism, sexism, greed, ignorance, and idolatry.

Christians who take Communion therefore find it necessary to pray for the broken world. In prayers that we call intercessions, we address the God who took on the sins of the world, naming those areas of brokenness which need to be reconciled and healed. Sometimes these intercessions are woven into the very prayer that precedes the breaking of the bread, traditionally coming in the part known as the epiclesis. This section of the prayer—often marked by a statement like "pour out your Spirit on us gathered here and on these gifts"—is especially concerned with how God meets what is broken. Some intercessions happen during the Communion prayer itself, including prayers for the persecuted, sick, or dying. In this way the body pours out the concerns of the church during the very act in which we remember that Christ was broken and the Spirit given for our salvation.

Intercessory prayer is also a necessary part of baptism. Justin Martyr, a church leader in the second century, wrote that praying was the first act of the newly baptized believer. After coming up out of the water, a new Christian would first pray, only afterwards moving to greet his or her brothers and sisters with a kiss of peace. This was such an important connection for the early Christians that they did not allow unbaptized worshipers to participate in the prayers of intercession. If you had not been baptized, there was a part of service—usually immediately following the sermon—when you were dismissed from the gathering. That meant that you did not participate in the prayers, the offering, the kiss of peace, or Communion. To be joined to Christ in baptism means that you are joined to the body of Christ, and the body's prayers for the broken world constitute one of its most important roles.

Note: Much of this information about baptism and Communion comes from Worship as Theology, a book by liturgical historian Don Saliers.

Friday, April 10, 2020

What Does the Cross Mean?

Most Christian worship spaces contain some kind of cross, either inside the sanctuary or outside mounted to the building. Some of those crosses include a figure of the crucified Jesus, which makes the symbol a crucifix. Others—especially in Protestant churches—are empty of anything other than the horizontal and vertical boards. Regardless of their form, crosses are so common in church buildings that we have a tendency to forget why they are there and what they mean.

The Chi-Rho
The cross was not a popular symbol among Christians for the first 300 years or so of the faith. The early believers remembered what crosses were used for: to cruelly torture and execute enemies of the Roman state. Only after Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity in the 4th century did the stigma of persecution, along with memories of the cross as a device of torture, begin to fade from the church's collective memory.

The Greek Cross
Over time the worldwide church began to develop different symbols to represent the cross on which Jesus died. Just as his death has many levels of meaning—from forgiveness of sin, to victory over death—the cross can symbolize many different aspects of the Christian faith. Here are some examples of different cross symbols:

The Chi-Rho symbol is not technically a cross but rather a  Christogram. These two superimposed letters represent the name of Christ in Greek (Chi resembles X, and Rho looks like P). Legend has it that Constantine used this symbol as a battle standard on his soldiers' shields during the military victory at Milvian Bridge. Some scholars believe that Constantine also saw in this symbol a reference to the sun god, which he may have believed was a form of Jesus Christ. Whatever Constantine may have believed at that moment, the Chi-Rho is still a popular symbol today.

The Latin Cross
The Greek Cross is one of the earliest forms adopted by Christians in the years after Constantine. There are many variations of it, but it essentially consists of four equal arms.

The Latin Cross is the form most Americans are familiar with, with the vertical arm extending longer below the intersection.

The Jerusalem Cross
The Jerusalem Cross contains four smaller crosses around the central one. These represent the five wounds that Jesus suffered on the cross: one on each hand and foot, as well as one in his side. This is also known as the Crusader's cross, worn and carried by European soldiers on their quest to conquer Jerusalem.

The Orthodox Cross, also known as the Suppedaneum or Byzantine cross, has three horizontal bars. The top one represents the inscription over Jesus' head. The lowest bar, often set at an angle, shows the footrest Jesus used to push himself up to catch his breath. There are several versions that have the footrest pointing upwards.

The Orthodox Cross
St. Andrew's Cross is also called the Saltire. Tradition teaches us that Andrew the apostle was crucified on a cross of this shape. This form shows up on several flags, including that of Scotland.

Because these symbols of the cross carry a long history, some people react against the abuses they represent. Crosses were carried by crusading Europeans as they marched into Near Eastern lands, perpetrating unspeakable war crimes. To this day many peoples see these symbols as an affront to their heritage, making the displays of crosses on public lands a hotly contested issue.

Crosses were also co-opted by American racist groups who erected and set them
St. Andrew's Cross
on fire for the purpose of terrorizing minority communities.

Even many faithful Christians see the meaning behind the cross as a glorification of the wrong aspects of God's saving work; they feel that torture and repression is never to be celebrated or justified. 

Yet the cross is troubling even to those who do not make these difficult historic associations. The American dream, for instance, is built on the foundation of optimism and the assurance of a better future. Christians who have been raised in that environment tend to see God's story in the same way, by rushing past the events of Good Friday and focusing on the Problem-Solving God who makes everything better on Easter Sunday. (Just think how many more Americans go to church on Easter than on Good Friday. Most Protestant churches don't even have services on Friday.) Many worship spaces for newer churches don't even have crosses at all, and not just because they would get in the way of the projection screens. A cross interrupts and challenges our assumptions that all is right with the world. It reminds us that we still live in the time-in-between, where evil is still very real and terrorizes us all. The cross therefore serves as a necessary reminder—it acknowledges that life in our fallen world is still messy and painful. In spite of our best efforts to improve the world, the power to heal it can only come from the one who died there.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

New Book: Essays on the History of Contemporary Praise and Worship

"Contemporary Praise and Worship" may be a new phrase to you. Depending on your own church background, you probably are more familiar with one of two more popular terms: "Praise and Worship" or "Contemporary Worship." In the introduction to his new edited volume of essays, Lester Ruth makes a case for creating this new term out of the two others. While "Praise and Worship" and "Contemporary Worship" used to be distinct categories prior to the 1990s—like two different rivers, with their own networks of tributaries—the two have largely merged into one overarching phenomenon. The influences of Pentecostal churches and the charismatic renewal movements that gave birth to "Praise and Worship" beginning in the 1950s have crossed over to the mainline and evangelical churches that started dabbling in "seekers services" and "contemporary services" starting in the 1980s. Likewise, many of the church growth strategies that saw "Contemporary Worship" as a way to bring new people into (more) traditional churches have influenced charismatic and Pentecostal congregations.

In making his case for the confluence of these two big streams of American Christian worship, Ruth enlisted eight other authors to describe various aspects the phenomenon's historical development. The book we produced is called Essays on the History of Contemporary Praise and Worship, published by Wipf & Stock and supported by the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship.
  • In Chapter One, Matt Sigler describes early developments of the Contemporary Worship stream, providing details about a Methodist Church that experimented with alternative worship styles in the 1970s.
  • Chapter Two dips into the Praise and Worship channel; Billy Kangas describes the influence of Vineyard pastor John Wimber on the Roman Catholic charismatic renewal movement.
  • I contributed Chapter Three about the growth of the "second service" in mainline churches, a development within the Contemporary Worship stream in the 1990s.
  • Adam Perez, in Chapter Four, provides historical background about a key development in the Praise and Worship movement: the establishment and growth of Integrity's Hosanna! Music.
  • In Chapter Five, Jonathan Powers discusses the role of historian Robert Webber in changing how mainline and evangelical churches approached the phenomenon of Contemporary Worship.
  • Wen Reagan's Chapter Six is about the cultural negotiations of black gospel music, showing how they prefigured very similar issues that the Praise and Worship movement would later encounter.
  • Chapter Seven by Swee Hong Lim shows the gloabl musical connections between Chinese congregations and the Praise and Worship channel.
  • In Chapter Eight, Jonathan Ottaway provides details about a key aspect of the merging of these two historical streams: the development of the worship degree in Christian colleges and universities. 
  • Lester Ruth concludes the volume with an essay on research methodologies for liturgical scholars who concentrate on these streams and the resulting confluence of more recent developments.
The book is for sale now. If you are interested in the history of Contemporary Praise and Worship, or any of its various prior expressions, get yourself a copy.

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Flow: The Ancient Way to do Contemporary Worship

Back in 2017 there was a conference at Duke Divinity School about music and worship in the church. Each invited speaker approached a different version of the question: "What's the Right Kind of Worship Music, If...?" Lester Ruth, Research Professor of Worship at Duke Divinity, was tasked with answering the condition: " want to do contemporary worship using the ancient, four-fold order?"

Dr. Ruth's response took the form of an actual worship service. For two months prior to the conference, he led a group of students through the process of designing it. We came up with a service with ancient roots (that is, it followed the four folds of worship), but we used only contemporary styles of music and prayer. In other words, it was a "rooted" order of worship that "flowed," meaning that we didn't pause during transitions. We led unbroken sets of songs and prayers that took us into and out of the preaching time.

The result was so satisfying that we decided to write a book about it. Flow: The Ancient Way to Do Contemporary Worship is a resource for church leaders who want to have the best of both worlds: a service that is rooted in the ancient traditions of the church, one that also reflects the best values of contemporary worship.

Several of us at Duke had a hand in contributing to this book. We cover all the aspects that a congregation needs to consider when trying to revitalize an existing contemporary service (or start a new one):
  • Lester Ruth, the book's editor, sets the stage with an introduction and opening chapter that describe how "flow" and spontaneity were also valued in the ancient church.
  • Zach Barnes describes the recent history of recovering flow in modern worship services.
  • Adam Perez discusses the process of planning an order of worship, rethinking just how the pieces can and should fit together.
  • Jonathan Ottaway gets into some of the musical nuts and bolts for ensuring that the service moves without sonic interruptions.
  • I have a chapter about the spoken words of a service: announcements, scripture readings, prayers, and sermons.
  • Drew Eastes handles the nitty-gritty of visual technology, especially around the projection of images.
  • Debbie Wong adds a sample template of a service based on John 2:1-11, walking the reader through each aspect of the service from beginning to end.
If you are doing contemporary worship at your church, and especially if you are considering making a change to the service, this is the best book available for putting the pieces together.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

What is Ash Wednesday?

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of the 40-day Lenten season leading up to Easter Sunday. Since Easter moves around from year to year, Lent's beginning day is not fixed either. In days before you could Google the date of Easter, the local priest would announce it from the church on Epiphany Sunday. He was the only person in town with the fancy table that tracked these moveable celebrations.

Lent is not observed by all denominations. At first the Methodists didn't really care for it; John Wesley thought every day of the year should be filled with sober reflection and preparation for the age to come. Similarly, your church may not mark Lent at all.

But if you attend an Ash Wednesday worship service today, the pastor may mark your forehead with ashes from last year's Palm Sunday fronds. Then he or she will say one of these phrases to you:
Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. (from Genesis 3:19)
Repent, and believe the gospel. (from Mark 1:15)

In addition to those references, the use of ashes has other biblical foundations:
  • Tamar, David's daughter, cried out in despair after being raped by her half-brother: 2 Samuel 13:19
  • The Ninevites repented in sackloth and ashes after hearing Jonah's sermon: Jonah 3:6
  • Esther's uncle cried out to God after his people where given a death sentence: Esther 4:1

Whether or not you receive ashes on your forehead today, it is good to be reminded that you will die someday. It's not something we often think about, much less prepare for. Indeed, we like to trick ourselves into thinking that death is for someone else. So Lent is a time to remember that we too will face our own mortality. As Richard Lischer puts it, this season highlights the truth that the way to Jesus is prefaced by many little deaths. This happens each time we recognize our own sin, repent from it, and ask for God's forgiveness.

Want some extra reminders through these days of Lent that Jesus' death and resurrection can make your own death a new beginning rather than an ending? Sign up for daily Lenten emails at

For some, the best part of Lent is the day before: Shrove Tuesday, also known as Mardi Gras. If you forgot to celebrate it last night, today is too late!

Remembering Nagasaki

On August 9, 1945, the US Army bombed Nagasaki, Japan. It was the second, and last, time a nuclear weapon was used in warfare. The bomb, c...