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Yadah, yadah, yadah

1 Count yourself lucky, how happy you must be— you get a fresh start,
your slate’s wiped clean.

2 Count yourself lucky—
God holds nothing against you
and you’re holding nothing back from him.

3 When I kept it all inside,
my bones turned to powder,
my words became daylong groans.

4 The pressure never let up;
all the juices of my life dried up.

5 Then I let it all out;
I said, “I’ll make a clean breast of my failures to God.”

Suddenly the pressure was gone—
my guilt dissolved,
my sin disappeared.

6 These things add up. Every one of us needs to pray;
when all hell breaks loose and the dam bursts
we’ll be on high ground, untouched.

7 God’s my island hideaway,
keeps danger far from the shore,
throws garlands of hosannas around my neck.

8 Let me give you some good advice;
I’m looking you in the eye
and giving it to you straight:

9 “Don’t be ornery like a horse or mule
that needs bit and bridle
to stay on track.”

10 God-defiers are always in trouble;
God-affirmers find themselves loved
every time they turn around.

11 Celebrate God.
Sing together—everyone!
All you honest hearts, raise the roof!

Psalm 32

I’m more than a little surprised at how different this Presbyterian thing feels. I mean, I’m not uninformed about American religion — especially among conservative Protestants. At least, so I thought. But now that we’ve attended several PCA churches locally and although their worship “styles” have varied, one thing is consistent and that’s the thing I find most startling.

Each service re-presents, rehearses, and reviews the Gospel. In my previous life, that might mean something heavily evangelistic. And I intimately know many fundamentalist ministries who are overtly trying to be God-centered (code for “Reformed”). All that aside, this Presbyterian thing is more deliberate, more routine, and, it seems to me, more tried-and-true. Dare I call it liturgical?

You often hear so-called non-denominational conservative Protestants scolding their more market-savvy brothers for being too man-centered in their worship. “Worship,” you’ll hear, “is not about you. It’s about God.”

Well, no. It’s not. It’s about both. Presbyterians get that. Sean Michael Lucas — fellow BJU alum and, I’m pretty sure, a former student of mine way, way back when because he looks so familiar — explains it this way:

Our belief [is] that worship is covenantal would mean that in worship there is a two way movement between God and his people. Some people have even suggested that in worship there is a dialogue between God and his church. God is the one who makes the first move toward us be calling us to worship, and we respond by invoking his presence in our midst. And the rest of worship is a movement back and forth between God and his beloved people, a movement in which God meets us in Word and sacrament and we respond to his presence with prayers and praises.

Perhaps you have noticed a certain ebb and flow to many Presbyterian worship services:

  • God calls us into his presence by his Word and Spirit.
  • We enter God’s holy presence, are convicted of sin, and confess our sin to him.
  • God responds by his Word with an assurance of his pardon.
  • In prayers and songs, we praise our God for calling us into his presence and forgiving our sins.
  • God speaks to us by his Word in the reading and preaching of Scripture, as well as through his visible signs of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
  • We respond to God in thanksgiving with praise and offerings.
  • God sends us away with his blessing (or benediction).
  • We move back into the world for loving service, assured that we are God’s people.

That’s not just the Gospel in five easy-to-remember steps. That’s not just a revival service designed to get ’em saved. That’s reminding me that the Gospel is for me. That’s rehearsing the Drama of Grace.

Starting with Confession, yadah. Surveying the Old Testament use of the word en masse implies that confessing our sin as sin and confessing our God as Lord are pretty much the same. Like inhaling and exhaling, crescendo and decrescendo. We are helpless and fallen, and God is powerful and good. We have broken the law, and God provides escape. Salvation and adoration. Repentance and praise. It’s all confession. In admitting our iniquity, we privilege God’s greatness. We are depraved and He is gracious. We are human and He is God.

Why won’t we confess? We believers should be the best at this since it most glorifies God. But in refusing to admit our own sin, we’re erecting our own towering, babbling ziggurats. David describes it as gnawing away at our insides, dehydrating our juices, and pulverizing our bones. Nothing sounds more maddening, more Pharisaical, more pagan, and more blasphemous.

We get incensed that Science denies God as Creator while we whitewash our sepulchers. We raise our fists and our voices in anger at politicians for sounding a tad too Marxist in describing our religious impulse, but we act as embittered as any failed revolutionary when it comes to admitting our wrongs. We stand without apology after all, and we think that’s a tribute to God when it’s nothing more than a tribute to ourselves.

Why not confess our sins? What are we afraid of? Making God look good?

14 thoughts on “Yadah, yadah, yadah

  1. Proverbs 28:13-16:

    You can’t whitewash your sins and get by with it; you find mercy by admitting and leaving them.

    A tenderhearted person lives a blessed life; a hardhearted person lives a hard life.

    Lions roar and bears charge — and the wicked lord it over the poor.

    Among leaders who lack insight, abuse abounds, but for one who hates corruption, the future is bright.

  2. Reading this today brought to mind what Paul said to the Corinthians, “Do you look on things after the outward appearance?” – I’m afraid we do – we can’t be honest – we can’t lay it all bare – we won’t look good – we don’t really care what God looks like. It is all a show. And the more we say, “it’s all about God” the more it really becomes all about us.

    Thank you for being honest. For those who will. Lord, God help us.

  3. We aren’t honest about who we are because we don’t want to look bad in the eyes of others, especially if we’re in leadership. Part of the reason for that, besides pride, is that the church has a history of condemning those who fail, rather than showing grace and offering restoration. I’m not talking about disciplining someone who’s unrepentant, but someone who is just weak like the rest of us. It’s been said that the church is the only army that shoots its own wounded.

  4. Hey! I taught Sean Lucas his senior year of high school in VA. I just recently connected with some of his classmates on facebook (hadn’t heard from them in almost 20 years!). I looked for him but couldn’t find him on facebook and was wondering where he ended up after leaving BJ.
    Thanks for the link to his site!

  5. Lift up your hearts…we lift up to the Lord…let us give thanks to the Lord our God…it is right to give our thanks and praise.

    This “sursum corda” is said before all sacramental moments in liturgical churches. It reminds me of the grace we encounter everyday as we continually give ourselves over more and more to Christ.

    I love reading some of your writing because you are where I was 30 years ago. It’s like you’re hearing the Gospel for the first time.

  6. This is wonderful. I love that about liturgical worship: what you’re describing–the re-presentation and enactment of the gospel. I love taking it all in, synthesizing it with the week that I had and the week that’s coming up. I feel like I’ve had a soul tune-up every week. By the end of the service, it feels like my psyche has been restored to its factory settings. Or re-booted. Or something.

    Glad you’re enjoying your church experiences so much.

  7. Hi, Camille: Glad to know that On Being Presbyterian is useful for you on your journey. I don’t think I had you for speech class, but my wife Sara (Young) was a Rhetoric and Public Address major (94) and both Sara and I did inter-society debate. Glad to know there are others on the same journey that we went on. Best, sml

  8. Debate!! That was it. It always comes back to debate, doesn’t it? 😉

    And I do remember your wife! A near-by PCA Pastor who’s become a dear friend mentioned that while the Christendom is a “small world,” the Reformed world is even smaller. I’m beginning to find that out. . . . and loving every minute.

    It’s funny how God orchestrates it all. Anyway, nice to “meet” you again. And I did enjoy the book very much!

  9. Pingback: A Time to Laugh
  10. Hey Camille,
    it’s so great to enjoy being human and imperfect and not having to worry about it. And if yiu’re usig that word’ liturgy, in yur conversation, ‘what’ would the IFB neighbours think! Ha ha! Who cares eh! I love liturgy roo, but I also love freedom from ‘form’ as an end in itself. I think we need’both.’ Great theme. Barbara Quinn

  11. I stumbled across your blog today, and I’ve read it from the beginning. I must stop here, as I have hungry teenagers to feed! As a 1994 grad, I remember your husband singing regularly in services. Even as a student I was often conflicted by the harsh punishment and the reward for “tattling”. I have many fond memories from BJU, but I went through 4 1/2 years with a philosophy of “I don’t want to know” what you are doing if it’s going to eventually get us BOTH into trouble.”
    As a mother to the afore mentioned teenagers, I have often wondered what many of my old friends from BJU would think of my life. My children are technically classified as “step”, although God gave them to me when I fell in love with their father when they were 2 and 4 years old. I have many tried and true friends from BJU who know my story and pray for my family. In the sense of comedy vs. tragedy, my husband says he and the kids’ birth mom split up because of “different interests”…he liked to hang out with the kids and she liked to sleep with men she met on the internet. I have been labeled by some, in all the ways you can imagine; however, I know the my Heavenly Father put us together to make a family. Some friends suggest I write my own version of “Sunshine…”, others truly believe I am living in sin. Your blog has been refreshing! I look forward to reading your book.

    1. Nice to meet you, Johnna. Sunshine! Yes, more and more sunshine! We all need to tell our stories!

      C

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