Category Archives: worship

Renew and energize your disciples Lord Matthew 28 First Saint Johns Lutheran Church April 17, 2017

[for the audio of this sermon click on the above icon]

We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who know the hope and joy of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ said … AMEN!

For us in a liturgical church, this season, starting on Ash Wednesday, for many people seems to be such a dreary day, I put ashes on your forehead, which in itself is certainly counter-cultural what the world would see as “weird” and then I quietly tell you from dust you came and dust you shall return. Not exactly a “whoopee do” moment. Then we spend the next 40 plus days sacrificing something, hopefully, and remembering our sins. In a world that is all about lurching from the next exciting/breathtaking event, again seems weird that we should invite such reflection when the world around us is all about denial and minimizing their sin. But we get it, we get the whole human condition, when we are serious about our faith, we are equipped by our yearly liturgical calendar to deal with all the conditions of life. We don’t live in a zippity-do-da world, that when the trials strike, we don’t just curl up in a cocoon and become a zombie. That is part of what being in the church, in the Body of Christ is all about. We know that we have a pastor and brothers and sisters in Jesus that are there to strengthen us and remind us of the glorious promises that we have in Christ. While the Words and promises of Jesus give us inspiration and strength, the resurrection of Jesus is what gives us the ultimate, slam dunk hope that it really isn’t about this world and the trials. It is about the New World of the resurrection that gives us the deep down peace and joy that we will live an eternal, perfect life of true living and fulfillment.

Palm Sunday is good, but we know what it’s leading to, it’s kind of a interval, but certainly not the end. Maundy Thursday doesn’t really get the notice it should. Maundy is Latin, mandate or commandment, when Jesus told His disciples “ESV John 15:12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this that someone lays down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you.” How we minimize this in our church calendar mystifies me. That Jesus gives us this incredible direction, you will not find in any other belief system, to love one another. That He is telling them, again, this is it, I am laying down My life for those I love, for My friends, that He is also telling them, and us, His disciples, that we are His friends. I certainly have a friend in Jesus, but it is the most one –sided friendship you can imagine, He gives me everything, up to and including His life in order for me to truly live now and the eternal life of the resurrection. But there’s more, He puts an exclamation point on this by giving His disciples His Body and Blood, we who are His disciples now are fed Jesus’ Body and Blood to the strengthening of our body and soul. We receive this actual nourishment of His Body to build us up and make our relationship with Him as strong as conceivable.

Good Friday, that’s a tough day. To see Him who called us friend, who is there for us all the time, and we helplessly watch as He is mercilessly beaten, abused, and then brutally murdered. Completely innocent, completely holy and abused so ruthlessly, showing how we can be so debased and so cruel as a people.

It seems unnecessary to have such a brutal scenario. But we know our greatest fear is death, to blink into non-existence, to leave behind everything we’ve known and just stop living. In order for our greatest fear, terror, our greatest anxiety to be defeated it had to be met head on, how else could death be defeated but for someone to die and then be restored to life? We are all doomed to die, without Jesus there is nothing but death. No human being could overcome death, because by our lives, we are already dead in our sin and trespasses, we deserve death. But not Jesus. Jesus, He who is completely holy, completely without guilt, no sin. He is not destined to die, He has eternal life because He is eternal, God the Son. He could pay the penalty, overcome death, which none of us could ever do. In God’s economy, in order to have mercy on us, in order to keep us from eternally paying the penalty for us, God permitted His Son to be the paschal victim. He did all that was necessary mostly during this season in order to give us the promise of eternal life and life in this world of joy and promise.

In all this it is very little about feelings. Yes we have feelings, but the point isn’t about how you feel, why etc, what you “feel”, just doesn’t change anything. Sam Storms writes: “What you and I “like” is utterly and absolutely irrelevant. God doesn’t set his eternal agenda based on what we “prefer”. What we might “hope” to be true simply doesn’t matter. What does or does not make us “feel comfortable” has no bearing on the truth or falsity of this issue. The fact that we have an intuitive sense for what strikes us as “fair” or “just” doesn’t really matter, what actually is, is what matters to God.”[1] To our harm we let our “feelings” our opinions, the way we think things should be dictate way too much of what we think. In God’s providence, in His Lordship, His creation it is about what He thinks. It is going to be His way, whether we think it’s fair or not. Yet, He does so much for us. We live the sinful lives, He doesn’t, Jesus didn’t and doesn’t, yet who was made the way to God and eternal life? Jesus. Not about our opinion or our feelings, entirely about what Jesus did for us. What we like and don’t like is certainly about our “feelings”. We could walk away on Good Friday, decide “what’s the point”, give up, give in to our feelings of loss and depression and not wait for the true joy. Jesus’ resurrection isn’t a jump up and down the Patriots won the Super Bowl happy. That’s superficial, it’s there for a moment and then back to reality. It’s that time when you stop in your life, a smile spreads over your face. Not a goofy, giddy smile, but a smile of knowing, of contentment, a mature and thoughtful smile knowing that the shallowness around us is just passing. That there is true joy, contentment. Have you ever noticed that when you’re all giddy-up happy, it’s quickly followed by kind of a crash? You were all yippy, then just kind of settled down into a discontent of “why did I do that”? The temporary giddy-up is fine, so long as we don’t get hooked on it and require continuous shots of “happy”. It doesn’t last. It’s been a tough last few months for me. On Friday I had to be with a mother whose 22 year old son was murdered. A few weeks ago I did a funeral for a ten year old boy, the week before that my father died, a few weeks before that I had to be with a mother and father whose 22 year old son committed suicide. Throw in car problems, other assorted issues, the strain has been huge. If I was dependent on happy how do you think I would continue to function? Being a Christian means you have the support of brothers and sisters in Jesus and pastors who are there for you during the trials and encouraging you. I really appreciate how some people here stepped up to encourage and support. Ken stepped up and really helped with a lot of the worships of the last few weeks. How can I stand before people who’ve just lost a child and make them “happy” as the world thinks they should be? Amusing them, stand up comedy, platitudes? Do I just leave them there to deal with it, get over it? As difficult as you think your trials might be, imagine being the parents going through such trials. There’s nothing that’s going to make them “happy”. But as a pastor, I am going to do whatever I can to give them true joy. That is the whole purpose of the resurrection. Tertullian wrote about the resurrection: “It is by all means to be believed because it is absurd.”[2] There will be tragedies in our lives of varying degree, the longer the life the higher the chance and even more tragedies. We might think of Jesus’ being horribly murdered on Good Friday as tragedy, yet out of His suffering on that day, came the greatest promise that we can imagine and as a pastor that is what I get to share with people who have endured ghastly tragedy. By doing this I am going to help them to know joy. That our God is very much aware of what they’re going through. He saw His own son unmercifully brutalized, beaten, nailed into wood and left to suffer. God understands our horror when we have to endure tragedy, He is right there with you reaching down through the layers you experience in order to help you understand that there is a far greater promise that overcomes the horror. The horror is for a time, the promise of our eternal life, the joy that we have in Jesus right here and now gives us the joy, the hope, the promise that restores, renews and energizes us now. The world tells us just to accept tragedy and move on, to find happiness or turn to drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex to overcome tragedy, because it doesn’t matter anyway. That is such a hopeless, appalling lie straight from Hell. We were created by our all-powerful – all loving God. He knows the horrors, but He also knows that it is not the end and gives us that promise, that there are more and greater eternal joys that He has for us in our eternal life and that restores and renews us in our life now. That is what the promise of the empty grave of Jesus is all about, that at the end of time all of our graves will be empty. Our bodies we will be resurrected, restored to a perfect life that we were always intended to have. Martin Luther wrote: “The resurrection consists not in words, but in life and power. The heart should take inward delight in this and be joyful.”[3] Happiness only lifts us up to drop us again, the joy, peace and promise of God the Father in the resurrection of Jesus, God the Son, gives us joy now, that when we have the tragedy of the death of someone we love, we know that when we are all in Jesus, this life and all its tragedies will be a dim memory as we live life together in the eternal, fulfilling, perfect life of the resurrection.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amin and Shalom

 

[1] Sam Storms “Ten Things you should know about Hell”   http://www.crosswalk.com/slideshows/10-things-you-should-know-about– hell.html?utm_content=buffere08f1&utm_medium=fbpage&utm_source=cwpg&utm_campaign=cwupdate

 

[2] Cal and Rose Samra “Holy Humor” p 59

[3] Ibid

Leftovers for God? Is that a smart way to go?

Yea the Blackabys have inspired me to get this written, it’s been sitting for awhile, but the blanks have been filled in. It’s about how we give God the leftovers, if that. I’m not innocent of this, as I lay person I didn’t have an appreciation for what goes on at a church while I’m not there and didn’t feel as motivated as I should to give the very best. The Blackabys point out”When the Israelite gave an offering to God, it was no longer their own, it belonged entirely to God. God would only accept the best that people could give. It was an affront to almighty God to offer him animals that were damaged or imperfect in any way. God Himself set the standard for sacrifices when He offered His own Son as the spotless lamb.”(Experiencing God Day by Day Henry Blackaby, Richard Blackaby p 268).

Certainly to the point they write “You do not serve Him in your spare time or with your leftover resources.” Yea, as a pastor I really do feel it. Too often “hey here’s five in the offering plate, great service.” Try to imagine how that makes me feel. I really do try to make worship as uplifting and yes challenging as possible. Compare that to the therapist/counselor who charges, just you, a lot more. I’m there to push you to grow in Jesus, to make the best for Him for what He’s given you and to also push myself. I have some great folks who help me, but too often you just hear about how the big box church has produced some massive show for about one-tenth your total annual budget for one Sunday.

But for the most part, it’s about people’s soccer games (a general reference to all the other things going on Sundays. Really?! Sunday? Morning? seven days in the week, you can’t reserve half a day, read give or take three hours?) To be there to lift up praise and worship to God Father, Son and Holy Spirit who created you, sustains you and gives those in Jesus the promise of eternal life? How about the other folks that do rely on church for encouragement, often times just to see younger people and interact and encourage others. Few if any there to encourage them, because they’re working, they’re traveling, they’re at sports or some other event, they’re at home because they had a tough week. Yes, maybe three Sundays out of 52 (not including weekday worships, which I miss even more rarely), I am there the rest of the time really trying my best. No I’m no Chuck Swindoll and I’m always looking for feedback. However I’m also working hard to faithfully worship as millions have for 500 years and millions do around the world today. That is a faithfulness that can’t be matched by any of our current fads, that just have to be on Sunday morning.

I get it, people do travel, people do other things. But clearly the priority is no longer church, worship, their pastor, their fellow congregants. People tell me all the time they’re going to meet with me, they’re going to come to church. Gotten to the point where it seems, unless of course someone wants something, that about 80% of the time what they say is bupkus. So much for integrity. My wife says they just tell you what you want to hear. Really how about just tell me the truth? It’s far more disillusioning when someone tells me something that they will do and don’t, then just telling me the way it is. I’m a big, tough, ugly, gnarly guy, you’re not going to hurt me with the truth. But wow, when people say they’ll be there, do something, support something and don’t because there is something more interesting going on elsewhere, it really does beat you down and yea does hurt. Really what I do isn’t interesting and challenging?

Hey, to be sure I’m not going to stop. There are Christians through history and all around the world who are going through far worse than I am and I’ve made promises to the church, to the congregation to do as much as I can. I feel very strongly the need to be able to tell someone I did all I could, probably more for Christ and His church. Yes, there may come a time when I may have to sacrifice a lot more. For now I can look you in the face and say I have every intention of being faithful to my vows, for working hard 6+ days a week. For those who have become church members, you might also want to remember that you made vows to be a member to support the church with your time, treasure and talent. From 13 year old confirmands to those who come to Christ later in life. Way too many just pooh-pooh those vows. (As far as time, for most of you a two day weekend is a given, for me, it’s a holiday. If I have one day that is truly about me and my family, that’s even pushing it. I can’t remember the last time that I had a three day weekend. Hasn’t been in the last year.)

How about it? For those who have never gone, maybe you should get over yourselves and see what it’s all about. For those who have a “sawtooth” pattern, if that regular, maybe you could step it up about 50%, maybe everyone could do a little more in all respects to the time, treasure and talent? “But I’m so busy!” I will compare Day-Timers with anyone out there, you’re not that busy. Giving the best to God? I’ve had people who haven’t been in church in decades, members, who call me and expect that because of some, usually tragedy, that I’m supposed to now jump for them. There are people who’ve supported that church for decades, so that I could be there, but you didn’t, now I supposed to jump for you? And for those who like to give me that patronizingly little pat on the head “oh it will all work out”, no, no it won’t. And you won’t like it.

I am privileged to work with a handful of people at my church who can say they do. But for the most part, the rest just give left-overs and for too many people pretty scraggly left overs. So yea, this is a challenge, especially to the guys. Let’s see you step up and really lead your family in Christ, start by showing up, listening to what needs to happen, being that disciple of Christ that your wife, children, community, employers will be forever grateful for, as well as your brothers and sisters in Jesus, you will be great and I will be there to do whatever I can to make you that guy. Lose the lame excuses and step up to things of eternal value.

Hallowed be His Name

Worship, that is about hallowing God’s Name. That’s how Jesus tells us to pray, “hallowed be Thy Name”. We are called to bring glory to God’s Name. As the Blackabys point out: “If, however, our actions detract from God’s reputation…We can so tarnish the name of father that we hinder other people in coming to God.” (Experiencing God day by day  Henry and Richard Blackaby p 229)

People today are hungry for God, God the Father of Jesus Christ, the all-powerful, omniscient, omnipresent, Creator and Sustainer of all. But we, as Christians, have trivialized His Name so much. Starting decades ago, Jesus our buddy, our brother, our co-pilot. How can God be all – powerful if He needs us to lead the way and He’s just there to buck us up. I can always use another buddy, God has blessed me with many, but what I really need is an all powerful God, who created the universe, controls the universe and is completely in control of how this is all going to play out and how I, as an eternal being in Jesus, will live my eternal life. The world really wants to know that God. The world wants to see Him being treated worshipfully and reverently by His people. How can they take seriously a God that when we leave “worship”, it’s about the same way we would feel leaving an Aerosmith concert. All pumped up, but not for the right reasons.

Our worship should be respectful in terms of how seriously we take God vs how much it’s really about us. We talk about profaning God’s name vs Hallowing His Name. How does a “praise band” hallow God’s Name in worship. Seems to me that trivialize God’s Name for our own comfort and amusement. How can anyone else take His Name seriously, turn to Him as the true strength against the evil of the world, the true salvation of the world, the true sustainer of the world? “Jesus is my buddy, Jesus makes me happy, it’s all about me la, la, la”. One person said they really question a song about Jesus when the number of personal pronouns outweighs anything else in the song. Me, I, ours, it’s not really about Jesus is it? It’s really about you, isn’t it? That’s what distinguishes hymns about God, they are all about God, how He is the ultimate, how we glorify Him. He is the infinite, eternal, all powerful God, there is so much to say about Him, not what we usually have now, a mindless mantra, repeating over and over some particular attribute. The attribute the singer clings to because they really don’t know all that much about God. Jesus told us: “KJV Matthew 6:7 But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.” [Bible works}

We are taking God, the rock of our salvation and making Him the rock and roll of the trivial. We’re trying to turn worship into a time that pleases us, not Him, making His Name common place and trivial, what’s the point of glorifying Him? After all it is all about me, right? God is a tool for me, to use or not use as I deem necessary. He’s not the all powerful Savior, Sustainer, Creator, all powerful God. He’s just something to amuse and please me. If He doesn’t serve my purposes, well there are other alternatives in our great post-modern world, things that will make me “happy”, because the ultimate goal isn’t the reverential worship of God almighty, hallowing His Name. The ultimate goal is that I “like” things and they make me happy. “We ought to pray daily, as Jesus taught us to, that God’s name be treated as holy.” (Blackabys)

Church is important Douglas Morton of Institute of Lutheran Theology

This is a big issue to me, I hear so much nonsense, to the effect “I’m too smart for church”. Yet when someone needs it, they expect the church, the people, the worship etc, to be AJ perfect, even though they haven’t done anything to contribute to it. It is important to be a part of the Christian community and that culminates every Sunday morning in worship. For too many people in our society today, it’s the only time when (at least Lutheran worship), it’s about God and not about them.

There  is so much to be done, and there is nothing more important than witnessing to the love, strength, comfort, power of Jesus Christ and the eternal life of the resurrection that He promises. But to be in communion with Christ, you have to be in communion with His Body which is the church. We are His for eternity beginning with being part of His Body in worship and service. The following is from Douglas Morton, take some time to consider what it is to be part of the Body of Christ in worship, service and the prelude to life and life eternal and abundant in Jesus.

Institute of Lutheran Theology, Douglas Morton
Yesterday at 11:06am ·
“You don’t have to go to church to be a Christian?”
True. Nor do you have to breathe to be human. However, we know what happens when we don’t breathe.
The Gospel is the message of sins freely forgiven in Christ. This Gospel gives us life. It’s also what we are to find and breathe in when we “go to church.” Below are four ways this Gospel comes (or should come) to us with its fresh air in the church service.
First, in “church” we come in contact with the word of God. If this doesn’t happen in your congregation, then find another. I’m not saying the church service is the only place we come in contact with God’s word. What I am saying is that the church service is the important place for this to happen. Here we listen to the Scriptures. God’s word often permeates the hymns. The pastor proclaims this word to us in the sermon. We hear both law and Gospel; the law to show us our sins and the Gospel to show us our Savior, who freely takes away our sins. We can get the law in many places. God has even written it on our hearts. However, the Gospel is foreign to us. It must come to us from the outside, in a word from God. Thus, “church” is a great place to hear this Gospel.
Second, in “church” we come in contact with two visible ways (often called “the visible word”) God proclaims his forgiveness for us. In Baptism, we meet the God who puts his name on us – “the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” – and marks us as his own. In the Lord’s Supper, we meet the whole Christ in his body and blood broken and shed for the forgiveness of our sins.
Third, in “church” we hear God’s audible word of pardon for our sins. This voice comes not in an “immediate voice from heaven,” but in the voice of another, our pastor. Certainly we can hear this absolution elsewhere, from other people. However, many church services begin with a confession of sins. Here we admit before God that we have sinned and need his forgiveness. Then comes absolution, where God speaks his word of pardon to us through the voice of our pastor.

Finally, in “church” we gather with our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. We share with each other God’s love and forgiveness in the Savior. This sharing is called the “mutual conversation and consolation of brethren.” There is something wonderful and refreshing about being around others who share with each other the Gospel of sins forgiven in Christ.
The Gospel word is the only word that gives us breath, and thus spiritual life. We live in a world that often suffocates our faith in Christ. In “church” we gather around the fresh air of the life-giving Gospel. The Holy Spirit uses this Gospel to create and sustain our spiritual breathing, thus sustaining our spiritual life.
By the way, “I’d much rather use the words “Worship Service,” or better yet, “Divine Service,” than “church” or “church service.” The “Church” is God’s people. These people come together in the service. Here God serves each with the Gospel that creates and sustains faith. And in faith, we respond with thanksgiving and a life of service.
The Gospel of sins freely and totally forgiven in Christ is the most important air we will ever breathe. Find a Christian congregation that proclaims this Gospel in all of its wonders. Gather regularly with others to breathe in this life-giving word of forgiveness in Christ. You’ve got nothing to lose and a lot of fresh air to inhale.
Douglas V. Morton, the writer of the above article, is the Director of Certificate Programs and Director of Communications at the Institute of Lutheran Theology, an Independent Lutheran Seminary, in Brookings, South Dakota (http://www.ilt.org). He is also Senior Editor of the school’s magazine, The Word at Work and on the Faculty in the Certificate Programs. He is coauthor of From “Vesper Chimes” to ‘The Way International” and The Integrity and Accuracy of The Way Word. He has also written for the Journal of Pastoral Practice, The Quarterly Journal of Personal Freedom Outreach, and for The Word at Work. You may contact him at dmorton@ilt.org.

It’s not The banal, provincial and idiosyncratic, it’s about true Christian worship.

It’s about the infinite, the whole Body

One of the main points of Christianity is its universality, it’s timelessness, about being so part of something so much bigger, infinitely bigger. Christianity is not limited to a time and place, it is worship that we share with all the generations of brothers and sisters in Jesus who have preceded us, all who will follow us and all who are around the world.

That connection surely is in Jesus, the Triune God, but it is also in shared worship. Be honest, if Augustine showed up at the door of First St Johns today, he would get it.  Yea there are variations, especially since the time of Martin Luther, but Augustine would still understand that this is Christian worship. If someone from Liberia, Thailand, Russia, South America showed up at First St Johns they would recognize what is going on, they would be comfortable that they are with fellow Christians and know the point of what we are doing at worship.

When we do our provincial, idiosyncratic, bouncing around that is only meaningful to your particulaf generation, in your little part of the world, to your little culture, that doesn’t apply geographically, generationally, that is only about your tastes, your preferences, you have limited yourself. It’s really not about worshipping Jesus, it’s about worshipping your preferences, and Jesus just happens to fit those preferences.

Liturgical worship is not about “little ole me”, it’s about being part of something infinitely bigger, that cuts through time, generations, thru space, across cultures, both now and through history. Liturgical worship, genuinely ties me to the worship of Christ, to hundreds of millions of people in time and space.

Sure would I like a time where I’m being entertained by Michael Card, Rich Mullins (yes I know he is in the presence of the Lord)’ Chris Rice, John Michael Talbot, Carmen. All due respect but those musicians are part of an older generation and now it’s about Mandisa, King and Country, David Crowder. Sorry for most out there, they are only going to recognize the names of their generation. Sorry, I’m much more interested in being tied to brothers and sisters in Jesus around the world and down through history, than those who are Michael W Smith fans talking about Jesus.

As much as many would like to think that “worship” today is oh so cutting edge and meaningful, be honest it’s really not. It’s all about you, all about your entertainment, and not really not about worship. You may think your praise band is the most plugged in, but to Christians around the world and through history it’s not! Not even recognizable, to most Christians and to the vast majority of Christians even offensive.

Yea, you want worship your way, but it’s time to recognize that it’s not about you. Christian worship is and always will be about Jesus first, then about you being part of the “catholic” that is “universal, authoritative ” true Christian church that is about serving Christ and His people and not about your provincial, narrow tastes. You may think new is somehow more enlightened and applicable, but it’s only to you and your big box church are a tiny part of the universal church in time and place. Maybe it’s about time, for you to become part of the universal church and save the entertainment for afterwards. By all means Michael Card coming to your church, invite me. I’m inviting you to real worship, that will unite you with Christians throughout the world and history at First St Johns.

Renewal of a great Christian Church

I’ve been the pastor of First Saint Johns for five years now (wow, I cannot believe FIVE YEARS!) OK, I’m better now, anyway, First Saint Johns really is a great, old downtown, almost cathedral. A place where God is truly glorified and has been for 140 years. It is also the focus on a “Renewal” effort, in order to rebuild a great temple to God.
Due to that I have done a lot of study and experimenting and while this is a message to someone else who is helping on this, I thought I would share this with the blogosphere.
While it might look like First St Johns has been a stuffy, tradition bound church, actually First St Johns “traditions” have been changed considerably in the last five years. While you might assume it has always been a liturgical type of worship, when I started there it was much more a kind of “folksy” as it were, contemporary, really wasn’t feast or fowl. I did not come to First St Johns with an agenda for liturgical worship, but the more I studied and also interacted with other ministries I felt that this is the way we should go. There was a lot of study and thought that went into this, there were no snap decisions and has been handled in a pretty subtle way, partly so that I could learn to do this better (and yea, I have a ways to go). Liturgical worship is not part of my experience, I did not grow up in any particular Christian tradition and my first years were in the United Methodist Church, so it’s not based on an agenda, but in terms of how are we best serving. I certainly could be doing some things in an unconventional way, but there again, I think the repetition of liturgical worship is built in to the worship in order to reinforce the point of the worship for the day. I would agree worship may appear to have a lot “stuffed” in and I’m not sure that’s the best way to go, but I really think a little overkill is more effective and I think it is effective in terms of overcoming years of downplaying Scripture in the church.
There is the issue in terms of using unfamiliar language, I’m not trying to intimidate, with liturgical language. But I think for too long the church has not challenged people, that it has made it easy and not made it something that was something important and God’s glory but that was supposed to be easy and therefore not even worth trying to understand.
I’ve done a couple of worship services, and planning to do it again, that walks through the service and explaining what it was about and why it’s done, something I try to stress for new members also. I really don’t think it’s an issue of “alienating” as much as including people in something that they should come to recognize as something so much bigger, more meaningful, that God does really change lives, His ways are not our ways, be a part of something that is God’s and not something that the church is, again, doing to lower itself into the world, but to raise God’s children above the world.
As I said in my sermon yesterday, worship in a more ancient manner ties us to the ancient church and also as a common factor with Christians around the world. I have seen a lot of current research that finds a desire in people, who, living in a period of such fragility, that we’re in, failure of institutions around us, the desire is for something that is stable, that has survived the centuries, that reaches to a massive number of Christians. Something that is solid, has stood the test of time and will move into the future.
The more we build that, establish that and project that, the more people will realize what they are not getting in their lives right now. During the Pentecost period, we do, mix things up a little. But during the high seasons, I want to emphasize the sacredness of those times and remind people of the important points of Christianity.
The reason why I resist a lot of praise songs is that the emphasis is changed from Jesus to the individual. One of the members of the congregation made an interesting observation (and I’m not really sure he supports liturgical worship), but he said that he’s always counted the number of personal pronouns in “praise music” and the I, me, mine always seem to dominate praise music. Hymns were written to be another way to convey the message of that day’s topic, too much praise music sounds nice, but there seems to be either little teaching or rather superficial teaching. I would very much like to do more with praise music. We’ve been trying to get a First Friday function ramped up to showcase Christian praise, I’d like to do other times of praise music, Erin Bode was at First St Johns a couple of years ago for an evening event. Believe me I love contemporary Christian music music, I have an extensive personal collection.
But it also raises another issue what you and I think of as contemporary Michael Smith, Amy Grant, Michael Card, and what older members think of, Gaither Band, is not what people today think of as contemporary “King and Country” “David Crowder” Modisha, which I also happen to like, but I’m sure you can see that kind of music would not go over big with the majority of people in the congregation. Gaither Band, would not be a big hit with younger members. I really am interested in any suggestions and if it really comes to pass that it would be doable to do a separate contemporary I would certainly consider it.
My reluctance there would be something that other churches have found in doing separate services for awhile, is that it tends to separate the congregation, segment it, instead of bring it together. We may not be able to avoid that since I would very much like to implement a separate Spanish speaking worship, but I honestly believe that at this point, more liturgical worship is what younger people are looking for in terms of stability and other factors that I could go into and would actually unite everyone in one method, vs, doing something that would be more pleasing to one group and would not speak to any other groups.
While I realize that these conclusions are not going to generate a whiz bang. upturn, I do believe that it has stabilized the congregation and given it something that can be shared by everyone and they can bring something that is rather unique into the world as a whole.
One other factor for me is this, I really do have to pick a lane with this church. We have been enormously blessed, and we are in relatively good shape, but we do need to stabilize on a common ground and take that into the world and trust that God is going to use this unified outreach and bless it to His glory and grow His church at First St Johns

Does God Hear? by Ken Ham, Answers in Genesis

by Ken Ham on February 26, 2013

Many churches now place a heavy emphasis on praise and worship music in their services. While God loves good music, it’s important to make sure our priorities line up with Scripture. What does God reveal about “true worship” that pleases Him?

To begin this article I need to make something very clear. I love music. In fact, both my wife and I play the piano. I love to listen to Christian music as I travel—and I love to sing praises to our God as I worship in church.

Also, one of my closest friends is Answers in Genesis’s songwriter and singer, Buddy Davis. I have encouraged Buddy over the years to produce CDs of the many songs he has composed and presented at concerts at the Creation Museum and churches around the world.

Having said that, I want to address what I see as a problem—something that troubles me. I realize that when you begin to talk about music, it can evoke very emotional responses. But I actually don’t want to address music styles or content in this article (not that such is not important). I believe something else needs to be addressed.

A New Priority in the Church

I am in a rather interesting position to view what is happening in much of the church. I have traveled for over thirty years across the United States and to other parts of the world speaking at conferences and churches. I get to see patterns from a big-picture perspective. My observation holds true across denominations and national boundaries (with some exceptions, of course).

I would like to suggest that in many instances—particularly from my personal observation in the larger churches—music has become the dominant part of church services, and the teaching of God’s Word has become less of a priority. The same is true in certain Bible conferences, particularly those geared for young people.

Let me share just some of my observations. I encourage you to consider them carefully.

  • There is what they call a “praise and worship” time with a band usually on stage. The congregation, or audience, is asked to stand and sing for thirty to forty minutes—sometimes for an hour or so.
  • Now, as I look around the room, I often find that many people are not singing.
  • Many of the songs are sung over and over and over again.
  • When people finally sit for a sermon or teaching, this time is often less than the music. And many people seem tired and distracted.
  • Many times, the band’s words cannot be understood. You can recognize them only if they are shown on the screen.

Let me share a couple of personal experiences that show how this mindset can hinder the teaching of God’s Word. Sometimes a pastor says something like, “We tried to cut the praise and worship time so you could have the fifty minutes you wanted to speak, but I can’t really control what the worship pastor will do.” And so I often end up with less time than what I prepared for and what is needed.

Some worship pastors have said things like, “We’ll let you set your computer up after we’ve finished our practicing. After all, the praise and worship is the most important part of the service.” If I hope to teach God’s Word effectively, as the invited speaker, I need to make sure the computer works well with the church’s A/V systems.

I have seen this pattern in other countries too. Churches have a “praise and worship” time that is more often like a concert to attract people to the church, while the teaching time for God’s Word is secondary.

Now, to be sure, not all churches are like this, and I’m not saying churches should not have a “praise and worship” time. But if young people and adults get the idea that music is more important than the study of God’s Word, then where will they and their churches be spiritually in the coming years?

Biblical teaching and worshipful music do not have to be in competition. When properly done, both are important aspects of true “praise and worship” that glorifies and pleases the Lord.

No More Excuses

I have had many pastors, particularly youth pastors, tell me that music is where the kids “are at” today, and music helps keep them in church and attract others. But when I’ve been given opportunity to speak to these young people, I find they are filled with questions and doubts about God’s Word, and they desperately want answers that can’t be found in a praise chorus.

Let me give a specific example. I was asked to speak at a service for young people. I sat through almost an hour of loud music and couldn’t understand most of the words. Then I was asked to speak for only about twenty minutes because, I was told, “Young people can’t sit for long and listen to talks these days.” Then I could have a question time afterward.

So I did my best in twenty minutes and asked for questions. Those young people bombarded me: Where did Cain get his wife? How do you know the Bible is true? Why doesn’t God show Himself to us? What about carbon dating? How do you explain dinosaurs? How could Noah fit the animals on the Ark? We went on for over an hour.

Afterward, the youth pastor said, “I’ve never seen them so interested. I never knew Billy could even ask a question, let alone the one he asked. What happened?”

What happened? Well, the beliefs of these young people are being challenged at public school. From my experience, I know many of their doubts, and from the research we conducted for the book Already Gone, we know that two-thirds of these young people will leave the church by college age. So I began giving them answers to help them understand how we know God’s Word is true.

MANY CHURCH LEADERS HAVE ADOPTED MUSIC STYLES SIMPLY TO ATTRACT PEOPLE, INSTEAD OF FOCUSING ON THE THINGS THAT MOST PLEASE GOD.

What’s the point of all this? Again, I’m not against having time for music. But I believe many church leaders have adopted music styles simply to attract people, instead of focusing on the things that most please God: music and vital teaching that most meet the flock’s needs and glorify the Lord. People want to hear solid biblical truth and answers to the skeptical questions of this age. They want to know how to live Christ-honoring lives and proclaim and defend the gospel to people who are thoroughly “evolutionized.”

Now, the Bible does not prescribe how much time should be allotted to teaching and music. But in a world that increasingly attacks the Bible’s authority, I submit that the pastor, more than ever, needs to equip his people with biblical truths so that they can function as true Christ followers (2 Timothy 3:16–17).

Furthermore, many churches tell their adults and young people that they can believe in evolution and history over millions of years, as long as they just trust Jesus. Or they totally ignore this topic. Yet I believe that today’s attack on God’s Word is the same strategy Satan employed in Genesis 3 when he asked Eve, “Did God really say . . . ?” This attack on the Bible’s trustworthiness is destroying the coming generations. Meanwhile, church members get together and have long “praise and worship” times that relegate Bible teaching to a much lesser role than music.

But is God hearing many of these churches? If we are compromising God’s Word and not teaching and obeying His Word as we should, is it possible that God would say to these modern churches what He did to the Israelites of old?

“Take away from Me the noise of your songs, for I will not hear the melody of your stringed instruments” (Amos 5:23). “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams” (1 Samuel 15:22).

Amen! By God’s grace, may we get our priorities straight and help people to praise and worship Him as He deserves—giving primacy to His Word in all aspects of our personal lives and church services!

Ken Ham is the founder and president of Answers in Genesis–USA. He has edited and authored many books about the authority of God’s Word and the impact of evolutionary thinking on our culture, including Already Compromisedand The Lie.