The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Category: Worship (page 1 of 4)

Even If God Does Not

King Nebuchaddnezzar built a giant golden statue,
a self-image rising magnificently on the plain of Dura
in his empire of Babylon; it is for worship.
The herald calls to one and all:
“O people, nations and languages,
when you hear the sound of the horn,
you are to fall down and worship
the king’s golden statue.”

Thus, when the music sounded,
all Babylon within earshot bowed low
and worshiped the king–
except three.

Three among exiled Jews in the empire,
three chosen to serve in the king’s court,
three who now stand to answer the king  in his court,
because Babylonians, eager to denounce Jews,
pointed fingers at the three:  “Treason!”

Furious the king:  “Is it true?”
“It is,” confessed the three.
“One chance more,” the king replied,
or a blazing fiery furnace will be your fate.”

One expects a pause, a waiting to weigh their choices.
But the three speak quickly–and bravely.
(Or is it foolishly?)
“We have no defense, O King.”
It’s true–no defense, no power.
“We speak only this:
‘If we are cast into the blazing furnace,
the God we serve can deliver us,
and he will, O King.
But even if he does not, know this, O King–
we will not serve your gods;
we will not worship your image of gold.'”

The climax, we know.  Into the furnace the three are cast.
Enraged, Nebuchadnezzar peers to see his enemies burn.
Instead, he sees not three . . .
“But I see four, walking freely, unhurt in the fire,
and the fourth is like a son of the gods.”

So we celebrate, and we debate who truly is the fourth.
But  it is the words of the three that capture me
(To a furious despot before a blazing furnace):
“Even if our God does not deliver us,
we will not worship the gold image you’ve made.”
“Even if . . . ”
No assurance of deliverance, no promise of rescue.
This belief sure:  our God can . . .
This outcome in doubt:  he may not . .. ”
This devotion firm:  “Even if he does not . . . ”

This, then, is where we stand.
Not outside the fire, but in.
And we are not unhurt.

Shall we think our God absent?
Shall we say he cares not?
Shall we quake with fear and anger?
No!  We shall sing.
Stubbornly, defiantly, we shall lift our hands
and sing.
And if we cannot sing, we shall speak.
And if we cannot speak, we shall whisper.
And if we cannot whisper, we shall mouth:
“I know you’re faithful and I know you can
save through the fire with your mighty hand;
but even if you don’t my hope is you alone.
I will not bow down to the gods of unbelief.”

And we will remember, even if we see him not,
Or feel him not:
We are not abandoned, not alone;
One walks with us in the flames.

*Special thank you to my daughter, Meridith, and niece, Michele, for sending me this song!

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Music Memories

I’m sitting at my computer writing a blog.  Christian instrumental music plays in the background.  Suddenly, my creaky memory kicks in:  we used to worship with many of these songs when I pastored SonRise Community Church. (not counting the occasional commercial mixed in here).

I sat back.  And remembered.  I can hear us (the worship team playing).  I can hear the congregation singing.  I remembered with gratitude.  With longing (how I wish for those days!).  My voice can’t sing along anymore.  But my soul can–and does.

I send this 1 hour 45 minutes of music, so you can join me, even if just briefly.  Prayer with words is good, with music better.  Meditation with quietness is rich, with music sometimes richer.  Praise with words brings joy, with music joy its full of glory.

Maybe this will bring you, too, music memories . . .


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What People Really Want

I just finished reading Are Miraculous Gifts for Today?  Four different theologians contribute four different perspectives on that question.  I may  comment on it in later blogs.

What I want to write now is the author’s compelling answer at book’s end to this question:   “What is the deepest concern of Christians in this area (of miraculous gifts)?”  Wayne Grudem’s answer spoke to my heart . . .

I don’t think that the differences we usually talk about among our churches are their deepest concern.  I do not think most Christians care deeply whether the pastor wears a coat and tie or a sweater or a robe, or whether the church has an Anglican liturgy or a Baptist order of service or charismatic spontaneity with tongues and prophecies.  I don’t think they care deeply whether the church leads music with an organ or with a guitar, or teaches that you should be baptized in the Holy Spirit or filled with the Holy Spirit. These matters are of some importance, but they are not matters of deepest concern.

“I think what people really want is to be in the presence of God.  They want to have a deeper experience of God as they participate in church life week by week.  They want times of prayer that are not just forty-five minutes of prayer requests and five minutes of prayer, and not just quickly praying through a long list of requests, but times when they can pray long enough—in an unhurried way—so that they not only talk to God but also hear his still, small voice bearing witness to their hearts.  And they want times of worship where, when they are singing, they are allowed to focus their attention on God for an extended time—where no one is interrupting them to tell them to greet their neighbor, or to sing loudly on the next verse, or to listen to the announcements, or to listen to the choir, or to fill out the registration card in the pew.  These things, of course, have a place, but they all shift our focus from God alone to the people around us, and they interrupt our times of deepest reverence in the worship of God alone.

“Christians instinctively long to be in an assembly of God’s people where they can focus their attention on God long enough that their eyes and minds and hearts are aware of nothing but his presence, where their voices are singing his praise (or perhaps silent in his presence), and where they are free to feel the intensity of their love for him and to sense in their spirits that God is there, delighting in the praises of his children.  That is what Christians today really long for.  They long to come to a church and be allowed to worship and pray until they sense in their spirits that they are in the manifest presence of God.

“When churches have allowed people to have such extended times of prayer and worship, this longing of Christians has been fulfilled, and these churches have grown remarkably.  No denomination or viewpoint on spiritual gifts should have a monopoly on such times of worship and prayer.  Cessationist churches and “open, but cautious” churches, as well as Pentecostal, charismatic, and Third Wave churches, can provide such times of prayer and worship, each with its own style and within guidelines that protect their doctrinal convictions regarding spiritual gifts.

“Of course, I am not saying we need to diminish the importance we give to sound Bible teaching, in which we have God’s voice speaking to us.  In many of our churches this is done well, in other churches it is not, and people go away spiritually hungry week and week because they have not been fed on the Word of God.  Yet I am saying that I think many churches need, in addition to such teaching, much more emphasis on extended, uninterrupted times of prayer and worship.  I think people are longing to come to church and to know in their experience that they have spent extended time in the manifest presence of God.”

To which I say a hearty, “Amen!”  By God’s grace, we had that when I pastored.  Now, retired and disabled, I can’t find it.  If I could, I’d wheelchair there, however difficult.  We need what this writer describes.  And my soul longs for it.


This book is available from Amazon at


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Hip-Hop Worship?

P.AllanI’ve written several times about worship music.  (See “Worship” on right -side column under “Categories”.)  To add more, here are some wise words from Ravi Zacharias and his colleague.

For those who don’t know, Ravi Zacharias is Founder and President of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM), which celebrated its thirtieth anniversary in 2014. Dr. Zacharias has spoken all over the world for 43 years in scores of universities, notably Harvard, Dartmouth, Johns Hopkins, and Cambridge. He has addressed writers of the peace accord in South Africa and military officers at the Lenin Military Academy and the Center for Geopolitical Strategy in Moscow. At the invitation of the President of Nigeria, he addressed delegates at the First Annual Prayer Breakfast for African Leaders held in Mozambique.  He has authored over 20 books.

May I ask you to listen to the short video now?  I’ll have a few comments to follow.

Image result for music notes

Music, as Dr. Zacharias noted, is a powerful instrument—the language of the soul that can seductively make the means (the music) an end in itself.  In other words, we can focus so much on the music (its rhythm, its style, etc.) that we lose sight of the song’s message.  This is particularly harmful in worship.  In worship, we want to be focused on the Lord and what we are singing to or about the him in that song.  If the instruments or the music itself become the dominant factor, then we have ceased to worship God and made an idol of the music.

The second point I want to reiterate is  the nature of the congregation.  Zacharias suggested we need to understand the audience to see what they will be engaged in.  Often, however, songs are chosen because they are newly-popular or they fit with the pastor’s sermon.  That’s all well and good.  But if the style of the song is such that the congregation struggles to sing it, they can’t engage in it to meaningfully worship the Lord.  This is true of some hymns as well as contemporary songs.  Some hymns are so familiar, their style doesn’t interfere with worship.  Musicians have written new melodies for some that aren’t familiar.  The important question here is, “How well can this congregation worship the Lord with this music?”

Clearly, balance is necessary.  The music some people can worship well with, others can’t.  The important point, however, isn’t hip-hop versus hymns.  The important point is, “How can this congregation best worship the Lord with music that conveys biblical truth?”

For the aim of worship is doxological (to give glory to God).  In such worship, we, then, find joy as together we fulfill our reason-for-being.



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With the Lord in Joyful Song

P.AllanCame across this video.  Got blessed.  Couldn’t not praise the Lord and celebrate his faithful love and goodness.  I thought, “Why not pass it along?”  So here it is, no charge.  It may not be your favorite style of music.  (What’s wrong with you?)  But, ff you need to be encouraged, if you need to rejoice in Jesus, I pray this will help.  (It’s OK to clap and sing along . . . )

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Christian Classical Music

O PreacherAccording to one web site ( there are 1264 genres of popular music today.  I have no idea if that’s right, but there’s a lot.

I’m reminded of a conversation with one of our worship leaders years ago.  How cool, he commented, that our worship team could play different kinds of Christian music for different people.  You know, please everyone.  I replied, “We haven’t even scratched the surface” and rattled off jazz and classical and folk and bluegrass, for example.  The variety of music nearly boggles the mind and makes me wonder what kind of God is ours, who creates creatures who can so creatively create such varied music!  One day it will  all be to his glory.

Next to today’s popular Christian groups, classical conjures up images of people dancing the minuet.  But I risk the scoffing to suggest a listen to this 14 minute, 42 second Christian classical music video.  At times we need music to pull us up from our despondency to dance.  Other times—busy, stressful times—we need music to revive our soul without sending us to sleep.  This video does it for me.

I suggest watching and listening with a mind to meet the Lord in the music.  Or perhaps silently reading a portion of Scripture.  Or how about this?  Take your loved one’s hand and together sit in the Lord’s holy presence, listening, waiting.  But whatever you do, please, don’t critique the music.  Meet with the One whom words alone cannot communicate–the One about whom there must be music’s beauty to taste just a bit of his glory.  He’ll be there in the song . . .


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P.AllanBeen a long, hard day.  Stress from the start.  Running.  Running, Running.  Not a moment to stop.  More to do than can be done.  Weary, but no end.  Worry, but no relief.  What about tomorrow?  The money?  The kids?  The house?  The job?

Where’s the peace?  Where is Jesus?  Why am I so down and defeated?

Before this day ends, how about making a few moments (you’ll have to make them ’cause they won’t just happen) to be still before the Lord.  Look at this video.  Listen to it.  I pray we’ll all find in the stress the stillness with Jesus that quiets our soul and makes us more than conquerors through him who loved us.

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Holy Spirit, You Are Welcome Here

O PreacherWhat a fitting, beautiful, God-present way to begin Sunday Worship!

For if we don’t humbly and hungrily pray for the presence of the Holy Spirit, what have we in our gatherings?  Yes, we have the written Word of God.  But it is the Spirit who enlivens the Word to our hearts.  And, yes, we have each other.  But it is the Spirit who kindles love and binds hearts.  If we don’t meet with the presence of the living God—our Father through our risen Lord—our meeting becomes little more than a memorial or a classroom.  Yes, we sing songs that proclaim the gospel of our faith.  But if we are merely making a proclamation without the presence of the One we proclaim, we are speaking into the wind.

How beautiful, how sanctifying, the “holy hush” after all the music and singing has stopped!  How we need to stand like that on holy ground in his holy presence and be filled with the Holy Spirit!  How precious those quiet moments when the world fades and all we sense is him!

If your church lacks his presence  like this, perhaps the video and these words have created a thirst . . . and somehow the Spirit will come for his glory and the joy of his reborn people.  I pray it might be so . . .

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He Will Hold Me Fast

P.AllanWhen faith is weak, when strength has ebbed, when temptation has won, when all hope seems gone, when death is near, here is a song to proclaim.  It will deepen our assurance and build up our faith and give us confidence that no one can snatch us out of our Good Shepherd’s hand (John 20:28).

The singers and musicians are the Norton Hall Band.  I found this video on Justin Taylor’s blog. Taylor  is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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What Do I Love When I Love God?

P.Allan“God, who needs nothing, loves into existence wholly superfluous creatures in order that He may love and perfect them. He creates the universe, already foreseeing – or should we say “seeing”? there are no tenses in God – the buzzing cloud of flies about the cross, the flayed back pressed against the uneven stake, the nails driven through the mesial nerves, the repeated incipient suffocation as the body droops, the repeated torture of back and arms as it is time after time, for breath’s sake, hitched up. If I may dare the biological image, God is a “host” who deliberately creates His own parasites; causes us to be that we may exploit and “take advantage of” Him. Herein is love. This is the diagram of Love Himself, the inventor of all loves.”
C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

Lewis’ words shut my mouth in silent wonder at the God of whom he writes.  I must read them again to drink in their fullness.  Yet, they are only a man’s words.  Remarkable to be sure.  But the author is merely one of us “superfluous creatures”.  How great, then, is God!  How unparalleled his love!

“This is love: not that we loved God,
but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
(1 John 4;10)

“In God there is no hunger that needs to be filled, only plenteousness that desires to give.”
C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

God is so far “other” than we, it’s beyond us to comprehend him fully.  We see him in Jesus, the God-Man.  Yet in power and wisdom and eternality and holiness and love, yes, in love, he is so “other” than we.  What is a being without hunger needing fulfillment?  What is One so profuse that his longing is to give and give again and still not be less than he is?

Jesus taught the greatest commandment is  to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength (Mark 12:30).  Why, when he doesn’t need my love?  Were I to love him fully, would such meager love be worthy?

How can I love such a God?  Yes, by believing and obeying and praising him.  But I am like the little boy with a few fish and loaves facing 5000 hungry souls.  Could my gift fill even a tiny place in a God who has no need to be filled?

And what is this God before whom all comparisons crumble?  Augustine, early church theologian, asked the question (Confessions, 397-398 A. D.) . . . .

But what do I love when I love my God? . . .

Not material beauty or beauty of a temporal order.

Not the brilliance of earthly light;

not the sweet melody of harmony and song;

not the fragrance of flowers, perfumes and spices;

not manna or honey;

not limbs such as the body delights to embrace.

It is not these that I love when I love my God.

And yet, when I love him, it is true that I love a light of a certain kind,
a voice, a perfume, a food, an embrace;

but they are of the kind that I love in my inner self,

when my soul is bathed in light that is not bound by space;

when it listens to sound that never dies away;

when it breathes a fragrance that is not borne away on the wind;

when it tastes food that is never consumed by the eating;

when it clings to an embrace
from which it is not severed by fulfillment of desire.

This is what I love when I love my God.

How great (for him a paltry word) he is! 
With my hands lifted and my mouth open,
Sing with the video and with me and worship our infinite, unfathomable God!

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