Reflections on spiritual themes (and a few other things).

Category: Worship


Many of us are required to have an ID badge or tag or card to get into our workplace. It’s a security measure. It the employer’s way of saying,” I need to know that you are who you claim to be. I need to know that you belong here.” So, in our day-to-day affairs we understand the importance of these credentials.

Let’s apply this to our public worship. What if you needed an ID to enter public worship. What if the Lord wanted each of us to prove to him every Sunday that we are, in fact, his people. What if God required each of us to prove that we belong in a sacred assembly. What kind of ID do you think would work?

Psalm 15 provides at least a partial answer. Some scholars view it as an “entrance liturgy”, which means that it may have been used in Israel’s public worship when people arrived at the temple for national festivals. The worshipper would approach a priest or gatekeeper with a request to enter, and the priest would reply with the requirements of entry.

In Psalm 15, the entrance question is stated in verse 1: “O LORD, who may abide in Your tent? Who may dwell on Your holy hill?” 

Then the priest or gatekeeper would reply in verse 2: “He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness, And speaks truth in his heart.” 

In fact, the remaining three verses of Psalm 15 elaborate on verse 2. They describe the character of the citizen of Zion, the one who belongs in the Lord’s assembly.

What Psalm 15 is saying is that the credentials for a worshipper of God – the ID badge, if you will – is his or her godly life. This in no way means that our good works and good character have merited a place for us in God’s assembly. The very fact that God allows and encourages us to worship him is an act of grace. But it’s still sobering to think that our character either qualifies us for worship or disqualifies us. 

This week, work on your credentials. Are you ready to worship?

Church Dropouts

Why do people quit going to church? It’s an oft-asked question. A 2006 poll by LifeWay Research supplied some interesting answers (see the chart below). All the respondents were adults who had stopped attending church regularly. The average length of time these adults had been out of duty was 14 years.

Several things stand out on this list. First, the majority of the excuses blame someone or something for falling away: family, job, cliques, or church members somehow caused the member to stop attending. It’s the other person’s fault. Second, the excuses seem awfully shallow. They remind me of student excuses for not doing homework: “My dog ate it.” Third, they consistently reflect a lack of proper priorities in life. Work, family, and distance become more important than a deep and personal spirituality; more important than a nurturing environment with fellow Christians in the local church.

Perhaps the most glaring omission on the list was the one thing that would explain virtually everything else: Lack of personal commitment to Christ. Would it be too much for someone to simply say: “I don’t care about Christ. I don’t care about his church. I don’t care to live a godly and spiritual life.” The Lord deserves an honest answer: “Oh that there were one among you who would shut the gates, that you might not uselessly kindle fire on My altar! I am not pleased with you” (Malachi 1.10). Jesus said: “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth” (Revelation 3.15f).

Commitment to Christ precedes all other commitments. It’s the absolute denial of self and a whole-hearted willingness to give up all that defines our relationship to him (Luke 9.23-26). But that devotion to him also bears fruit in devotion to others (Hebrews10.19-25). You can’t be concerned about Christ without being concerned about his people.

Thus, those who are committed to Christ are also committed to their fellow Christians in the local church. In Syrian Antioch, those who “turned to the Lord” and who resolved to “remain true to the Lord” were the same disciples who became “the church” in that community (Acts 11.21-26). In Philippi, the Christians there were concerned about needy Christians in Judea. They expressed that concern by a generous financial contribution. Even Paul, who knew them well, was impressed when, “they first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God” (2 Corinthians 8.5).

The only effective way to reduce the attrition rate in local churches is to increase the commitment rate. That is, each disciple in the local church must first be whole-heartedly committed to the Lord. When that commitment is in place, things like distance and busy-ness, cliques, hypocrisy, and all other sorts of potential obstacles will not prevent someone from serving Christ.

One other observation from the survey: Over two-thirds of former churchgoers are open to the idea of returning to church. So, there are good opportunities around us to reclaim the lost and to motivate the marginal. All it takes is commitment.

Top 10 Reasons People Quit Church

Simply got too busy19%
Family or home responsibilities prevented attendance17%
Church members seemed hypocritical17%
Church members were judgmental of others17%
Moved too far from church17%
Work situation prevented church attendance15%
Church was not helping me develop spiritually14%
Stopped believing in organized religion14%
Church was run by a clique that discouraged involvement12%
Got divorced or separated12%

*Survey respondents could “check all reasons that apply”, so the answers total more than 100 percent. From Life Way Research ( Conducted summer 2006. Survey of 469 adults who once regularly attended church, but now no longer do. The average length of time the respondents had not reguli1rly attended was 14 years. Two-thirds of the respondents were open to the idea of regularly attending services again.

The Word of God

While sorting through some of my father’s old papers, I came across this poem. At first, I thought it was a poem that he wrote. However, I discovered it to be lyrics of an old song, with slight adaptation. In either case, the sentiments are wonderful.

This Book unfolds Jehovah’s mind,
This Voice salutes in accents kind,
This Fountain has its source on high*,
This Friend will all your need supply.
This Mine affords us boundless wealth,
This Good Physician gives us health,
This Sun renews and warms the soul,
This Sword both wounds and makes us whole.
This Letter shows our sins forgiven,
This Guide conducts us safe to heaven,
This Charter has been sealed with blood;
This Volume is the Word of God.

*Dad transposed the 3rd & 4th lines of verse 1 in the original (first “Friend”, then “Fountain”). He also reworded the line about the Fountain. The original text was, “This Fountain sends forth streams of joy.”

According, the original lyrics appeared in two hymnals — Crowning Joy and The Mission Band Hymnal.

I couldn’t find any information about Crowning Joy, but I did find a digital copy of The Mission Band Hymnal on This hymnal was published by Emilie S Coles in 1878, and printed in 1879. The song was #20 in the hymnal. also said that either the lyrics or the tune were attributed to J B Coats (who wrote “Where Could I Go?”). However, he was born in 1901, so he couldn’t have written the lyrics. He may have written a tune for it, but if he did, I couldn’t find it anywhere.

The Mission Band Hymnal gave two metric notations for the song — “Gratitude” and “LM” (Long Meter). Two hymnals listed “Gratitude” as the tune for the hymn “Purer in Heart.” It will work with these lyrics, but only by stretching the 4th syllable of each line.

A better fit was “LM” (Long Meter or — that is, lines or stanzas consisting of 8 syllables each. There are quite a few familiar songs that use this meter, a number of which work well with these lyrics. They include:

  • “Doxology (‘Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow’)”
  • “O Master, Let Me Walk With Thee”
  • “Sun of My Soul”
  • “Awake My Tongue, Thy Tribute Bring”
  • “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”
  • “Father of Mercies” — the fourth line of each stanza must be repeated
  • “Just as I Am” — the fourth verse of each stanza is a bit wobbly