Lent video – Longing for the Thaw

Lent isn’t about self-denial for its own sake. It’s the spiritual equivalent of the last snow before the arrival of spring. It’s a season of preparation. Lent is aimed at grasping the intense significance of the crucifixion – that gives us a deep and powerful longing for the resurrection, the joy of Easter. During Lent we fast; at Easter we feast. During Lent we contemplate; at Easter we celebrate.

(Please feel free to make use of this short film in church and nonprofit settings. If you do, leave a comment; I’d love to hear how you used it.)

More Lighting Design-on-a-Dime

Here are a few more photos of cheap lighting design ideas that can be accomplished with only two ellipsoidal fixtures and a few PAR cans. Gobos (metal or glass discs that create patterns in the light) make all the difference in being able to change the look of your stage quickly and easily. When money is not an issue, the way to go is to use projection mapping and LED wash lighting, but when you need to conserve funds, you just can’t beat the bang-for-the-buck that you can get from a few used ETC Source 4 fixtures. Here are some of the looks we achieved.

I mentioned this briefly in a previous post, but the patterns on the chancel wall in these photos were made by inserting easily-changeable gobos into two ellipsoidal lights mounted on our back wall (the only exception to this are the words in some shots, which were done with a cheap projector fired from the back wall). The colors are a combination of the two Source4 ellipsoidals hitting the chancel wall straight on, and four or six Source4 PAR fixtures providing a color wash upward from the bottom of the wall. Color gels are inserted in frames mounted to the lights in order to color the light.

We started out by renting a few PAR fixtures with bases for a weekend at a time and plugging them straight into wall outlets, getting nice results with a simple setup:
Interesting lighting with just 4 PAR fixtures
Renting from a local theatrical lighting company is a great way to test out equipment, experiment with ideas, and demonstrate what can be done with a few lights. Once people saw how much lighting added to the feel of some events, it became easier to justify lighting purchases. We gradually added a few lights and dimmer packs at a time until we had what we needed. I think we were able to get everything we needed for under $2k, spreading that out into purchases of a few hundred dollars at a time. If you need to skimp, you can actually do it for considerably less than that—just leave out the controller and the dimmer packs, and plug the lights straight into the wall like we did when we first started. You just won’t be able to dim them or balance brightness between colors. You can also go with cheaper brands for the lights themselves and save money that way.

We found Premier Lighting to be a great source for color gels and gobos, but if you can find a local source, you can save a lot on shipping.

The important thing to remember is to make the most of the resources you have instead of bemoaning them. We started with no curtains to block daylight, cream-colored drywall everywhere, only white lights, and no money whatsoever budgeted for improving that situation. Given time, patience, and creativity, you can transform the look of your space. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Try Ikea lights if you need to—but try something!

When You Are Not Enough Chord Chart

thad cockrellI couldn’t find a chord chart for “When You Are Not Enough” by Thad Cockrell & Matt Stevens anywhere online, so I made one. You can download a free recording of the song on Vintage 21’s website.

This song fit well with our series on Ecclesiastes.

Chord Chart

When You Are Not Enough chord chart (PDF): When You Are Not Enough – G

Advent Readings

advent-sm Check out the great resources Cardiphonia has for Advent and Christmas here and here.

Also, below is a set of Advent readings we used last year in our worship services during the lighting of the Advent candles. We compiled/adapted them from multiple sources. The ending prayers came from Presbyterian liturgy. The introduction section came from Doug Jones, who also introduced me to Paul Sheneman’s book Illuminate: An Advent Experience, which contains devotional readings for every day in Advent and is a great resource for families. Several sections of the readings are sourced from Sheneman’s book. He has also published two other Advent experience books: Anticipate and Celebrate.


As we approach this Sunday, we begin a new cycle of the Christian year. The Christian year begins in the season of Advent, four Sundays prior to Christmas. We mark each Sunday of Advent by lighting a candle. As the year grows darker and darker (and the days grow shorter and shorter) with the approach of winter, we light up our worship with more candles as we remember and anticipate the coming of Jesus, the Light of the world.

John 1:5 says, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

The four Sundays of Advent focus on four themes that surround the anticipation and expectation of the coming of Jesus – hope, peace, joy and love.


Reader 1:
The first candle of Advent is the prophets’ candle, which symbolizes hope. As the prophets of Israel received from God messages of hope about his promise to heal and reclaim Israel, we also receive that message today. The flicker of a single flame reminds us that the Light of World, Jesus, has already come. However, Jesus has not yet returned to complete the work he started. We wait and anticipate the second coming of the Son of God in order to make all things right and rid the world of darkness. Today, we are called to recognize the darkness and to hope in the Light as we retell the story of this good and powerful God who came in the form of a little baby to heal the hurting world.

Reader 2:
2 The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.
3 You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder.
4 For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,
you have shattered the yoke that burdens them,
the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor.
5 Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire.
6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.   Isaiah 9:2-7

Please pray this prayer with us:

Lord Jesus Christ, hope of the world,
we celebrate your coming to us
in the fragility of flesh and blood,
and anticipate your coming again
for the healing of the nations.
Help us share your great promises of hope
with those facing despair, enduring injustice,
and those struggling to find direction. Amen.


Reader 1:
The Gospels of Matthew and Luke open with story of the birth of Jesus, but the Gospel of Mark doesn’t. Instead, it opens like this:
“The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, 2 as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:
“I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way”—
3 “a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’”
4 And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. 6 John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Reader 2:
Instead of having angels, shepherds, or wise men prepare us for Christmas, the gospel of Mark gives us a weather-beaten prophet wearing camel-hair clothes and baptizing people in the wilderness. Mark wants us to pay attention to John’s preaching before he gets to the story of Jesus. We need to hear God’s voice in the wilderness of our busy and chaotic lives, calling us to get ready for the great coming of Jesus—to prepare our hearts to receive the One who is Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. The baptism of repentance John announces to the crowds calls them not only to confess their sins but also to turn away from them and turn toward God. Only then will the people be ready for what God is about to do.

Please pray this prayer with us:

Lord Jesus Christ, our peacemaker,
as we celebrate your willingness
to step into our tense and troubled world,
help us to be instruments of your peace,
bringing love where there is hatred,
pardon where there is injury,
and hope where there is despair. Amen.


Reader 1:
In this season of Advent, we celebrate the coming of Jesus as God’s joy among us. A day is coming when God will gather everyone. Even the oppressed and the outcast will come home, and we will rejoice. Until that day, we serve an aching world in the power of the Spirit, trading fear for gladness, and worry for prayer. As the candle of joy is lit, set anxiety aside, rejoice in the Lord, pray with thanks, and make every need known to God. We pray for the day when God’s salvation is fully come and the whole world rejoices.

Reader 2:
Zephaniah 3:14-17
14 Sing, Daughter Zion;
shout aloud, Israel!
Be glad and rejoice with all your heart,
Daughter Jerusalem!
15 The Lord has taken away your punishment,
he has turned back your enemy.
The Lord, the King of Israel, is with you;
never again will you fear any harm.
16 On that day
they will say to Jerusalem,
“Do not fear, Zion;
do not let your hands hang limp.
17 The Lord your God is with you,
the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
but will rejoice over you with singing.”

Please pray this prayer with us:

Lord Jesus Christ,
we already know and celebrate your joy.
But we long for our weary world
to know the joy of a new beginning.
Help us to share your joy with all
who are hungry or weighed down by sorrow,
both those we meet every day
and those around the earth whom we will never meet.


Reader 1:
Today is the fourth Sunday of Advent when we light the candle of love. It is sometimes called the angels’ candle to remind us of the angels who heralded the birth of the Savior who loves us. During Advent we celebrate the coming of Jesus as God’s gift to us: ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.’ Until the day when the world is filled with God’s promised eternal life and everything is made right, we receive and celebrate the sacrificial love of Jesus.

Reader 2:
1 John 4:9-11 says: “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”

Please pray this prayer with us:

Lord Jesus Christ,
as we celebrate how you reveal God’s love,
make us mindful of the loveless lives of people we often overlook
but who have immense value to you.
Open our hearts and hands to love the loveless,
lift up the forgotten, and restore the lost,
whether close to us or far away. Amen.

Liturgy Ancient and Modern

The New Liturgicals series of posts explores why many Evangelicals moved away from traditional liturgy, how liturgy works on us as human beings, and how we can approach it in ways that bring new life from old roots. The series was largely motivated by James K.A. Smith’s book Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works, which is by far the most well-reasoned account I have read regarding how liturgy functions and why it is important for us to reconsider parting ways with it.

Why Did Evangelicals Break Up With Traditional Liturgy?


(A little housekeeping: In this post, I’m using the word liturgy to mean all the elements of a worship service and the order in which they occur. There are plenty of ways to expand that bare-bones definition into something more full with meaning, but we can get into all that later.)

Kevin DeYoung wasn’t the first to question it, and he certainly won’t be the last: should Evangelicals really have broken up with traditional liturgy? Maybe the separation was good for us, but whether we know it or not, we’re restlessly searching for her same old smile on every new face we meet. In fact, we are still liturgical; we just exchanged a traditional liturgy for a nontraditional, unintentional one. DeYoung’s post, “Is the New Evangelical Liturgy Really an Improvement?” has been making the rounds on social media over the past week or so. It doesn’t say much on its own (although it links to a few resources), but it least it brings up the question again: Why do we structure the order, flow, and elements of our worship gatherings the way we do, and is it an improvement over more traditional liturgy?

DeYoung outlines our widely adopted but rarely considered modern liturgy:

If I’m not mistaken, there is a New Evangelical Liturgy which is increasingly common in our churches. You find it in Baptist churches, Presbyterian churches, Reformed churches, free churches, and non-denominational churches. It’s familiar in rural churches and city churches. It can be found in tiny churches and megachurches. No one has written it down in a service book. No council or denomination is demanding that it be done. No pastor is taught this liturgy in seminary (um, probably not). But it has become the default liturgy nonetheless. It looks like this:

Casual welcome and announcements
Stand up for 4-5 songs
During the set, or at the very end, add a short prayer
Closing song

I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say this is the basic liturgy from which most evangelical churches operate…. For whatever appeal the New Evangelical Liturgy may have in American culture, and for whatever abuses or doldrums may be associated with a more traditional liturgy, I don’t believe it can be argued, by objective measures, that the new is superior to the old. Which liturgy has more prayer? What one has more Scripture? Which one does more to accent sin and forgiveness? Which ones anchors us better in the ancient creeds and confessions of the church? Which one is the product of more sustained theological reflection? Which is more shaped by the gospel?

He concludes with a challenge: “…I encourage pastors, worship leaders, and churches to consider whether this New Evangelical Liturgy is the best we can do. It may be familiar. It may be simple. It may even be popular. And it may still not be an improvement.”

The Battle of the Baby and the Bathwater

In the Light - cathedral italyThis is not new news. Five years ago Christianity Today published the article “A Deeper Relevance: Why many evangelicals are attracted to that strange thing called liturgy,” and plenty of sources have reported the phenomenon of “young Christians… going over to Catholicism and high Anglicanism /Lutheranism in droves.” Christian pundits, pastors, and statisticians have suggested various reasons for this trend, ranging from a search for historical rootedness to a desire for intellectually robust spirituality to (ironically enough) the novelty of chasing a new fad.

But while the DeYoungs of the world question our departure from liturgy and a swath of young people departs for the high church, a large number of other evangelicals are left scratching their heads, especially those who had less-than-stellar experiences growing up in liturgical churches. For them, liturgy conjures memories of endless hours bored in church, disengaged congregants repeating rote phrases, and a complicated script full of kneeling, standing, and chanting. To them, liturgy is at best listlessly insincere and at worst exactly what Jesus meant when he condemned “vain repetition.” Others have slighted liturgy because they mistakenly associate it only with Catholicism. In reality, while many of the Reformers significantly changed traditional Catholic liturgy as part of the process of the Reformation, many Protestant traditions have preserved rich liturgies from the time of the Reformation through the present day. Evangelicals inherited their distrust of liturgy largely from the Puritans, not from the Reformers.

We affirm the value of ritual repetition if we’re learning piano scales or learning to hit a golf ball but are curiously suspicious of repetitive ritual in worship and discipleship.

James K.A. Smith

Imagining the Kingdom

In his book Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works, James K.A. Smith challenges our antipathy toward repetition in worship:

We… Protestants have a built-in allergy to repetition in worship, although we are quite happy to affirm the value of repetition in almost every other sphere of life, from study to music to sports to art. We affirm the value of ritual repetition if we’re learning piano scales or learning to hit a golf ball but are curiously suspicious of repetitive ritual in worship and discipleship” (181-182).

Why are we so suspicious of repetition? Smith suggests three main reasons for this: 1) we associate repetition with spiritual insincerity, as in Jesus’ condemnation of “vain repetition,” 2) we think of worship primarily as an individual, expressive act of offering to God in which authenticity is most important, and 3) we align with consumer culture’s “chronological snobbery,” which prizes novelty and fresh expression above all else (out with the old and in with the new!).

Jesus’ Alternative to Vain Repetition Is Surprising

Hagia Sophia ceiling - Turkey 2013It goes without saying that vain repetition is a bad thing, but consider what Jesus says immediately following his condemnation of vain repetition (“empty phrases”):

And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others…. And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this:

“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name….” (Mtt 6:5,7-9, ESV, emphasis mine)

Jesus’ alternative to vain repetition isn’t an improvisational free-for-all; it’s a carefully crafted model prayer. His condemnation, as it turns out, is a condemnation of a model of prayer in which I have to perform in order to be noticed, either performing to be noticed by people, like the street corner stander, or performing to be noticed by God, like the empty phrases babbler. The model prayer Jesus provides is not a model of what we must say in order to be heard by God, but rather a model of how to pray in order to align ourselves most fully with God’s Kingdom. It’s actually a prayer that is intended to change our minds, not to change God’s mind.

Liturgy is more or less inevitable; we are creatures of rhythms who live in a world full of rhythms, and it’s not possible or helpful to reinvent the wheel every weekend. But if anything, which repetition is more in vain: the carefully crafted, acknowledged one, or the default, unconsidered one? Like the model prayer Jesus gave us, liturgy shapes us. It’s important that we choose a liturgy that forms us in the shape of God’s kingdom.

This idea of prayer and worship shaping us touches on one of the most important reasons for centering our worship gatherings around historical liturgy, and we’ll explore it more in the next post.

Further reading: Jake Belder: We need an aversion to our aversion to repetition in worship

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