Psalm 20 – Sermon Manuscript

-Both my parents grew up on a farm. There are a lot of things about it that sounded very enjoyable! Tons of room to run around, animals that are bigger than you to play with, farm equipment to drive around. I always liked going to the farm, they let me start driving as soon as I could reach the pedals! My dad’s side had 5 boys, so you can imagine that house. Interestingly enough, 4 of them have ended up in some kind of education role (the oldest still works on the family farm!). House of 5 boys who like to read & study. The older I get (and the older my dad & uncles get) the more stories get leaked out when they get together! 

-The youngest brother in particular had a bad habit during seeding of bringing books into the combine to not be so bored. As grandpa would drive around their acreage he would make comments about where each of the boys had gotten too invested in their book, or even note whole fields where books were being read! Do you know how he could tell? The plow lines weren’t straight! What was supposed to be a straight-lined field was covered with zig-zags. Each time my grandpa would apparently gently remind them to fix their eyes on a particular point in the horizon then never drift away from that spot, ensuring straight lines every time. But as boys are prone to do, there are far too many other things to focus on! A bird flying by, a rock in the pasture, contemplating when lunch is because they’re always hungry, or if it’s the Strand family the book you snuck onto the combine with you. 

-As Christians, we are all tempted to act like a Strand boy and be distracted by so many distractions around us instead of keeping our eyes focused and fixed on Jesus. Psalm 20 is a great reminder for us to be reminded to keep our eyes fixed on the right place so that our lives are marked by straight lines.

READ/PRAY

  1. God, Hear Our Prayers (1-5)

-A number of the Psalms we’ve studied together this summer as “royal Psalms” in that they are for/about/centered around the king. This one connects specifically to preparation for a battle.

-We miss some things as we don’t have a king, and are proud of it! I’ve been listening to the biographies of Alexander Hamilton and John Adams recently and was first of all struck with the differences in their approaches to life (Hamilton wasn’t a believer at least until the later end of his life, Adams was a committed believer), but secondly was struck by the strong debates related to whether positions of power should be passed down through generations, or whether it be merit based (if you didn’t know, merit based won out). 

-So since we don’t have a king, one thing we need to note is the king is meant to serve as the representative for the entire people. Our president is kind of similar to that, but not quite to the same extent. In the OT the king’s success determined the fate of the entire nation. Not too much of a stretch to say the nation was literally identified by the king, we can too easily dismiss identification with the president, even seen bumper stickers that say “don’t blame me, I didn’t vote for him”

-A second piece we need to be aware of as we read a royal Psalm is the king is meant to serve as the best, most accurate representation of God on earth. Remember last week we saw one of the first things a king of Israel was supposed to do was write out God’s law himself, then read and meditate on it throughout his life, allowing the king to keep his eyes on the right path and not end up with zig zags in his life! But because the king served as God’s representative, wars weren’t as we often see today for land or resources, wars were meant to reflect spiritual realities, so if a nation won in battle, it signified the superior strength of their God. 

-This is why the people would join together to pray for the protection and preservation of their king as they would prepare for battle. That’s why this Psalm begins by asking God to answer when the king faces trouble.

-“God of Jacob” shorthand for “God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” connects all the way back to Gen. 22:17. (Abraham after the sacrifice of Isaac)

-This is another reminder, as we’ve seen before, to know the story you’re caught up in! David didn’t appear out of nowhere, there’s a history that he’s a part of. Whether you believe it or not, history has an ending point, but that also means there’s a purpose and a reason behind it. If we don’t know and understand the history and our place in it, we’ll miss where we’re aiming at. 

-“sanctuary/Zion” (2) similar to the shorthand above, refers to the place where God’s glory or manifest presences dwells. Same thing for us today praying “Our Father, who art in heaven.” Is he ONLY in heaven? Absolutely not! But it reminds us that He is not just like us.

-honor or accept the various offerings of the king. 2 different offerings mentioned in this verse (different Hebrew words to refer to different kinds of offerings)

-This isn’t (as I’ve heard far too many people say) putting God in your favor by offering, or tithing, or sacrificing something. These offerings refer to restoring the relationship between God and the king. 

-For example, the “burnt offering” refers to an atonement offering, as seen in Lev. 1. This specific offering is meant to deal with the sins the king has committed. There is nothing we can do to put God in our debt, yet as I talk to people there’s a tendency to treat God that way. “if I give this to God, he has to bless me back.” I even heard this from a pastor in town here! That’s not how God works!

-I liked the way one commentary put it: “it is the inward reality of right relationship that Yahweh remembers rather than the abundance of sacrifices offered. Rather than taking this to mean that God remembers how we make sacrifices (of time, money, suffering, etc.), this passage is talking about fulfilling our covenantal responsibilities of relationship to God. Have we acknowledged our sin and turned from it? Are we experiencing and celebrating a renewed and restored relationship with God? God “remembers” us when we are on the way of faithful loyalty to him and when we daily seek him with body, mind, soul, and spirit.”

Selah: instrumental to stop and reflect on what was just sung. I’ll leave the Psalm on the screen for you to reflect on it, think about your relationship with God.

-“heart’s desire” does this mean the king get everything he wants?

-Think about 1 instance in David’s life: when he first looked down at Bathsheba, was God’s answer to allow her to be David’s wife? Doesn’t this just confirm what I talked about in the last verse, if we make all these offerings, then God will give us the desires of your heart? Think of Cinderella “a dream is a wish your heart makes” or the song I danced to growing up “listen to your heart, when it’s calling to you.” So God is in heaven as our fairy godmother to make our dreams come true?

NIVAC: “this is a wake-up call to bring our hearts into alignment with the will and purposes of God.” Or this is a way of ensure our eyes are on the right place instead of being distracted by all the things around us.

-Notice what takes place right before this, acceptable sacrifices, not to place God in your debt, but working to align the king’s hearts with God. It’s only after being obedient to God that he’ll have the proper desires to ask for.

-This is the proper way to pray! ACTS, the Lord’s Prayer all reorient our hearts and minds before we get to asking.

5: do we actually celebrate that we have been saved? We should be a joyful people! Even celebrating communion like we did last week is meant to be a joyful experience because we’re no longer dead in our sin.

-As I was growing up I had no clue that Christianity was meant to lead to joy! Not sure where I missed it, but it always felt like being a Christian meant there was no fun, just joy sucking rules to follow. Yet when Jesus came, he was accused of partying too much! We shouldn’t be partying too much, but there should be a level of joy and celebration at the daily victory we have in Christ!

  • The Response of the King (6)

-Notice the change in pronouns here. We go from “you/your” to “I”

-God sometimes calls the equipped, but He always equips the called.

-There is no question or doubt “I know this truth!” this is one of the reasons it’s so important to continue meeting together, we sometimes need each other to believe the realities of the gospel.

-Tami at last week’s music practice warned the team: be careful where you look when we sing this song! It’s a hard one when you know what’s going on in people’s lives! But think of how encouraging it is to see someone struggling with a cancer seeing someone else struggling with cancer and singing their heart out because God is still working in them!

-David wrote this 1000 years before the birth of Jesus, we now have the privilege of seeing the fulfillment of this promise. God’s salvation is done, accomplished, finished, now there’s nothing that can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord!

  • The Response of the People (7-9)

-Literally: “some in chariots, some in horses, but we invoke the name of the one true God” What are you looking to as your ultimate source of identity, comfort, and strength?

Deut. 17:14-20 Last week we saw the need to write down the law, this week I want you to look at another command: not acquire too many horses, aka find comfort in your nation, your tribe, your people. Since God created us, he knows our tendencies to look to anything else as the source of our confidence instead of Him, which is why we have vs. 7 in this Psalm. Specifically, what this is referring to the ancient near east is putting your ultimate confidence in geo-political power. The chariots/horses were the best weapon of the day, whoever had the most would most likely win in a battle. Has anything changed since?

-I say this with some trepidation, knowing that it may step on some people’s toes, but why is it that so many people today are looking to Politics as their primary source of identity? Why is everything that’s said filtered through a partisan lens instead of filtering it through a Jesus lens? We see this every 4 years from both sides! (actually seeing it pretty much daily now) Unless our candidate is elected into office our country is going to descend into anarchy, or if our candidate isn’t in office our country is falling apart and it’s OBVIOUSLY the fault of the policies of the other side. Unless this vote passes through the House our world is going to fall apart. It’s using fear and scare tactics to manipulate people, and the sad part is that it works! So then in response to the fear from one side, the other side doubles down on the opposite position and leaves no room for nuance. I wonder if today this verse would be more applicable if it said “some trust in the donkey, and some in the elephant.” 

-Neither party is completely aligned with every Christian virtue, which makes it hard to know how to vote. The problem in our culture today is because everything is viewed through a partisan political lens far too many assumptions are made about what someone truly thinks or believes. Instead of asking for clarification or trying to understand where someone is coming from, conclusions and assumptions are made about whether someone is “in” or “out” and then we decide if we’ll continue associating with them or not. This is the mark of following the ways of the world, not the ways of our Lord, and this cuts through both sides of the political aisle.

-This doesn’t mean we therefore throw up our hands and disengage (as tempting as that might be!), instead I think we need to work hard to find a better way forward together, and it MUST start in the church. 

-This is why I have said and will say in the future, leave your politics at the door when you come in here. What I mean by that (and what I should probably change what I say to) is leave your PARTISAN politics at the door, because there are political truths that must be shared in here: Jesus is Lord is a political statement, because it’s saying no one else has the ultimate answers or authority. The Bible makes it clear that every person who is in authority (kings, rulers, presidents, governors) is in there by God’s good plan and design, even ones you don’t like or agree with.

-I have read of, and even talked to, some pastors who have shared Bible verses over the past few years and then either been labeled a woke Marxist or a racist, and I know they were neither of those things! Why is it that sharing something like “blessed are the peacemakers” or “turn the other cheek” or “a gentle answer turns away wrath” are labeled “woke” today? If you didn’t know, I just quoted Matt. 5:9Matt 5:39, and Prov. 15:1. I’ve been called some of those things since I got here! When everything is filtered through a partisan political lens there’s no room for nuance, subtly, or trying to understand someone else’s point of view. Yet that’s exactly what we as Christians are called to do.

-I’m not sure how this happened (I’m still trying to wrap my brain around it) but there has even been Christians I know who have said it’s time to move on from gentleness and start fighting fire with fire. 

-I need all of you to pay attention to this: demonstrating the fruit of the Spirit isn’t optional for anyone who is “In Christ.” Look at these 2 lists Paul gives us in Galatians 5: one of them is led by the Spirit, and one of them is not.

-Maybe politics isn’t important to you at all! You’re probably much more sane than many of the people you’re rubbing shoulder with! However, these 2 lists I think can serve as a litmus test of where you have idols in your heart that God is revealing to you. In what areas of your life are you marked by the flesh instead of the Spirit? When are you prone to respond with sexual immorality, etc. instead of love, etc. In God’s kindness, He is provided a way for you to see where you’re looking to comfort in the world instead of Him. Areas in your life where you’ve taken your eyes off the right place and turned them to worldly things.

-Vs. 8 doubles down on this idea: Those who trust in anything other than God collapse and fall.

-We’ve seen this all summer! Where is the foundation of your life, in rock or sand? Do you have enough foundation built to endure the difficulties of life, or are you building on a foundation from this world that will ensure destruction? 

-Do you want to have God answer your prayers? Entrust yourself to God. Do you want to have a flourishing life? Entrust yourself to God. Do you want to have the strength to endure under trials? Entrust yourself to God. Do you want to be a strong person who isn’t worried by the changing world around us? Entrust yourself to God. 

-The last verse is repeated in the NT. 1 Tim. 2:1-2 also commanded to pray this in the NT. Do you pray for “kings and all who are in high positions”? Once again, not just for the candidates whose policies you agree with, but for “all people.” 

-Similarly to many other Psalms, all this is pointing us to the ultimate and perfect king: Jesus. Today we can use this prayer when we remember that we are in a battle, not against flesh and blood, which means we can’t use the world’s weapons to fight!

-Don’t lower yourself to slander, dissensions, or divisions. That’s how the world will try to tempt us to fight! Instead we fight by demonstrating: love, joy, peace, etc. And who demonstrated those traits perfectly? Jesus! Therefore, as we saw at the beginning of this, we need to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. Don’t be distracted by the things of this world, don’t let your eyes wander away from Him. It’s only by faithfully keeping your eyes on Him that the lines of our lives will be straight.

Bene: (Heb. 12:1-2)

Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every hindrance and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. For the joy that lay before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Why I’m Preaching Through 1 Peter

I created a brief “bumper video” for our new sermon series looking at 1 Peter. After it had shown for a couple weeks I got a couple questions about it, so thought I’d share some of my reasoning for why I addressed what I did in the video below.

First, everything I mentioned in the video is something that is a bit of a “hot button” issue in our cultural climate today. I specifically mention: whites vs blacks, men vs women, democrat vs republican, masks vs anti-maskers, and faith vs science as things the world uses to say Christians are wrong and can’t speak in to what is really truth. Part of the difficulty is there’s people on both sides of pretty much all those issues in every church. That’s where a book like 1 Peter is so helpful because he doesn’t allow us to divide into our various factions and groups, instead the gospel compels us to break down all these dividing markers and keep our focus on the primary realities that Jesus died for our sins and now reigns on high in heaven from where He will someday return to judge the living and the dead, right every wrong, and bring about perfect justice and peace (that’s where I talked about shalom – true and lasting peace a couple weeks ago in my sermon). 

Second, specifically referring to the race issue, I believe the organization Black Lives Matter is an abhorrent group that is being used to attempt to subvert many of the things God’s kingdom seeks to bring about. Interestingly, they recently took down their statement of beliefs because it is so controversial (pushing to get rid of the nuclear family, being driven by transgender rights and seeking the marginalization of both males and whites). 

Thirdly, I will say that despite the BLM organization being horrendous, there is still a history of oppression and marginalization of non-whites in the United States that serve as reminders of the fact that we are not yet home, but long for the day when Christ returns to bring perfect peace and reconciliation (as Paul reminds us to pursue in 2 Corinthians 5:16-21). There’s a couple at church who have 5 kids, 3 of whom are black and they have some very interesting stories of how their kids are treated differently, I’d encourage you to talk to them about their experience! There’s also some great resources out there on the history of race in America. One of which is a short video Phil Vischer (creator of Veggie Tales) put together here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AGUwcs9qJXY&pp=QAA%3D where he brings up historic laws like Jim Crow laws and Redlining that sought to marginalize non-whites from specific rights or opportunities. It’s also important to note that this isn’t just true of us today as there’s a history of racism throughout the history of the church. Peter wouldn’t associate with Gentiles when Jews were around (Galatians 2:11-14), Martin Luther wrote a treatise titled ’On the Jews and Their Lies’ and Jonathan Edwards, one of my favorite American theologians owned slaves (of which you can read a couple responses HEREHERE and you can hear a lecture on this issue from the EFCA Theology Conference HERE). As a brief aside, the EFCA did an entire conference devoted to this issue in 2018 entitled ’The Gospel, Compassion and Justice, and the EFCA,’ you can see all the resources from that conference HERE. Another helpful resource is done by Andrew Wilson, a pastor from England, writing on ‘A Short History of Racism’ and ‘On Structural Racism’ in which he links to the Phil Vischer video listed above.

Fourthly, part of the issue in our current climate stems from critical race theory, the idea that the only categorizations that matter are those who have and wield power and those who do not (or those who are the oppressors and those who are the oppressed). This is one of those ideas that stems from Marxism and has gained increasing traction in the past decade as the means by which we engage in any conversation. In this category, white males are deemed the primary oppressors, meaning that because I am a white, middle class, educated male I am inevitably the oppressor, thus anything I say is deemed as not true so I must cede any ideas to those who are more marginalized than myself. This is completely false within a biblical worldview because there is an objective source of truth that is not rooted in someone’s experience. (We’ll be studying in the new year the 7 “I Am” statements Jesus uses throughout John’s Gospel, one of which is where He says “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” So to get the foundation of truth we need to go to Jesus!) There is objective truth and it’s ultimately found in God himself, and captured in His Word, the Scriptures, which is why we preach, teach, and study the Bible every week together at church. We must be shaped and formed by God’s Word not the culture in which we live. Tim Keller has written a series of VERY helpful articles on this very issue which are all linked to at THIS WEBSITE, just to warn you these 4 articles are really long, but well worth the time it takes to read through them.

Fifthly, although there is objective truth and one standard of truth, we all have different experiences which shape, inform, and influence the way we view and interact with the world around us. The difficulty becomes when one’s experiences become their defining characteristic instead of looking at the broader way in which their story interacts with the world as a whole. What we all need to do is bring our experiences back to the Bible and view our experiences through a biblical lens instead of viewing the Bible through our experiential lens. This is where Grant Osborne’s idea of a Hermeneutical Spiral  is so helpful as our experience shapes and informs our views, but then through study, mediation and sanctification we slowly become more and more what Christ has called us to be, that is holy (as we’ll be studying together this coming Sunday in 1 Peter 1:15). This is where it’s very helpful to talk to people about their background and story, because the gospel will cut against some aspect of every culture on this side of heaven, so we should look to see ways in which the gospel can encourage parts of any culture, and ways that we need to use the gospel to fight against bad parts of culture (Tim Keller is incredibly helpful on this issue, particularly in his book Center Church, and so is D.A. Carson’s book ‘Christ & Culture Revisited‘ in which he look at Richard Neibuhr’s five Christ and culture options from his book ‘Christ and Culture’).

Lastly, this entire discussion is where we need to be so saturated in God’s Word that we can gain an eternal perspective on any issue, and bring the truth of the Bible to bear on it. As we’ll be studying this coming Sunday from 1 Peter 1:23-25  God’s Word is the one thing that will last forever, nothing else will. This is where it is imperative for us as Christians to live as ambassadors of a different kingdom who serve a different king. We cannot be held captive by any political agenda, any cultural agenda, any racial agenda, or any agenda other than the one Jesus called us to: to make disciples of His Kingdom. This is where we all come together as God’s people from various backgrounds (be that different socioeconomic, cultural, racial, gender, or generational) and are eager to “love another another…from a pure heart” (1 Peter 1:22). That doesn’t mean unanimity or groupthink, what it does mean is dying to ourselves for the sake of each other. So my hope and prayer with this series is that it cuts against the grain of any political agenda people are bringing to Sunday mornings, and brings us back to truth, the truth of the gospel message, that Jesus saves and we can place our hope entirely in Him, and that this message will be made visible in our lives as an adornment of the gospel message we preach.

The Need to Ask Questions

I have read a couple articles a while back about Rob Bell and the fallout from his book Love Wins that came out 5 years ago. Bell was most popular for asking really good questions about things many Christians assumed to be true, but either didn’t have the confidence or desire to question what they’d been told their whole lives. There seemed to be a resurgence in asking questions when I was growing up. Rob Bell was hitting his stride, Donald Miller was Blue Like Jazz, and youth group was where we’d go to have fun. I agree that it’s an incredibly important aspect of our faith to ask questions, God will NEVER be fully understood, but there are some things that are true, and will remain true, and we need to remember to proclaim.

In John 14:6, Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” This is a statement we can be sure about. It’s so easy in churches to get bogged down in the confusion of eschatology or blow small comments out of proportion instead of keeping our focus on Christ. One of the most impactful verses for me in my biblical interpretation over the past few years has been Luke 24:27, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” The point and purpose of the Bible is to point us to Jesus. It’s a book for him and about him, and he should be the focus of all of our lives. This also needs to be the focus of our corporate times of worship. If Jesus is the focus, it shouldn’t matter what kind of music we sing, how long the services are, how long you stand or sit, or how many people you’re forced to interact with. The point and purpose needs to be Jesus.

This doesn’t mean that we can’t or shouldn’t ask questions at all! Some of my biggest times of growth have come from asking questions, or someone asking me a question I didn’t know the answer to. But, as Augustine said, “our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.” Paul in 2 Corinthians 1:20 says, “For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.” We can trust in the God that has chosen to continually reveal himself to us through his Word and his people. This is why it’s so important for us to gather as the body. The church doesn’t exist as a single component of the body (you can’t have church by yourself in the mountains), but when we gather, we are to remind each other of the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We will never completely understand everything, but we serve and worship the God who does.

Passively Engaging with God

One of the most difficult aspects for me during a worship service is to be actively engaged with what is happening. Someone moving down the row from me, or someone coming in late, or a child crying or a funny joke all distract me from the primary purpose I’m there: to commune with the family of God and to spend time in awe of who God is. It takes a concerted effort to be engaging with people and with everything that happens during the service. This is the difference between being an active participant and being a passive participant.

Being a passive participant means I expect everything to go my way, for the music to be my favorites that I enjoy, for the sermon to be perfectly applicable to me and relate to me. This leads to both an entertainment model of church and a me-centric model of church. Church is all about me and what I get and want from the weekly services.

Being an active participant means I look for opportunities to serve those around me. Instead of wanting the music to be my favorites, I look for the ways these songs can serve us as a whole. I actively listen to the sermon and think through ways I can encourage the pastor for being faithful to the Word, ways I can grow as a believer, and support those around me.

This is part of the reason I ask for people to stand when we sing. By standing people are forced to be more engaged in what they are doing. Not to mention, it’s much easier to sing with correct posture, like you have when you stand.

Instead of looking for ways that we can get something, I hope we as a church can look for ways that we can engage with the Word of God and allow that to change our lives and the ways we interact with each other.

Worship in Adversity

We began a new series this week at Grace on the life of Elijah titled ‘Adversity.’ As I confessed during the beginning of the corporate singing, it was pretty tough to find songs that we know that deal with this important issue. This week I found a blog by a pastor at New Life Downtown in Colorado Springs who asked the question: how many minor keys are we singing at church? Looking at the 104 top CCLI songs from the past 25 years, there were 7.

Paul in Romans 12:15 tells believers, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” In my experience, we tend to do a great job rejoicing with those who rejoice (at least outwardly, even if inwardly we’re jealous) while a poor job at mourning with those who are mourning. It seems that we want people to mourn for a short time and then move on to being happy. Instead of actually mourning we offer poor platitudes, while not actually relating to any seen or felt needs.

This is also true of some songs that deal with our response to difficult situations. In trying to find songs that related to this theme, one of the first that came to mind was Matt Redman’s ‘Blessed Be Your Name.’ He wrote that right after 9/11 when he realized that many of the songs the church sings don’t have any aspect to dealing with difficulties. Yet that song is still in a major key and resolves in a hopeful statement.

I introduced a new song to the church this week, ‘Give Me Faith’ by Elevation Worship that hopefully helps put words to how we as believers can deal with difficult situations that arise: through faith. Hebrews 11 talks about the faith that many people have demonstrated throughout history. My hope and prayer as we go through this sermon series is that we can  pray for the faith to trust God even when our lives feel like a mess.

Transitioning Out

Over the past month, I have been in the process of transitioning out of the current church I serve and preparing to move and begin a new season of ministry in Longmont, Colorado focusing exclusively on worship through music. This process began last fall when I was talking to the youth pastor at this new church who has been a friend for a few years, and told my that my name had been brought up when the church decided it was time to hire a worship pastor. I officially applied for the position this past February, candidated last month and got called to the position a week later. Thus I have been wrestling through how to transition out of one church and into another without (hopefully!) dropping the ball at either place. Here are some of the things I’ve learned over the past few weeks.

It’s going to be hard.

I should have known this from the beginning, but I didn’t expect it to be as emotional as it was. I’ve enjoyed serving here for almost 4 years and have grown close to many people in the church. It’s been a joy to serve and I’ve had many opportunities to serve in so many different areas than I expected and have grown in my ability to lead people through music, pouring everything I could into the ministry here. Thinking that I won’t get to serve with them anymore isn’t easy to think through!

-Make Instruction Books

I quickly realized that my weekly to do list is bigger than I realized! Not as far as time, but as far as the steps it takes to get the music “stuff” ready each week! I need to pick songs that correlate to the sermon, think through any special events that week (missions moments, special announcements), Scripture readings, getting all the computers ready with the loops, lyrics and other slides, and then making sure planning center is right and everyone has the music in the right keys! During my time here I didn’t think through any of these processes but just do them! I took screen shots of each step of the process and included instructions about how to use all the main programs (for us here it’s Proclaim, Planning Center and Mainstage).

-Think Through All Your Subscriptions

Most music related things today seem to be subscription based, like Planning Center. Everything we’ve done here is currently tied to my account and church credit card which will soon be deactivated! I think I’ve transitioned them all to a different person and card, but I’m really hoping I didn’t miss anything!

-Ministry Is Relationships

Make sure you spend time with the people you’ve invested in. If this means setting up a meal for the ministries you’ve been most involved in, get it done. I was able to have a reception in between services this past Sunday to connect with a number of people, but it was very quick and I only was able to talk to people briefly. I did a music team meal, and a youth leader meal as both a way to say thank you for our time together, but also to just hang out with those people I’ve gotten close to over my years here.

-The Ministry Is Not Yours

This time has been a good reminder to me that this church isn’t all about me. Sure, I’ve left my mark on the areas I’m involved in and (again, hopefully!) positively in people’s lives, but the ministry will go on without me. This is hard to admit and even now hard to see how sometimes, but I know that God is in control. I hope we all have a mindset similar to John the Baptist who viewed his ministry as one of preparation (Mark 1:7-8).

Using Music From People With Wack Theology

There have been a few articles I’ve read recently about why people will not sing songs at church from specific groups, the most often quoted are Hillsong, Elevation Worship, and Jesus Culture. They do not want to endorse any kind of theology that may be questionable or lead people to study more about specific churches. But what if the words of many of the songs they write are biblically true, or a resurrection of an old hymn? Personally, I have chosen to do songs from almost all these churches. They have written many songs that are very catchy, easy to sing (sometimes! if you lower it a lot!), memorable, and theologically rich. I’m grateful for these people who have been gifted with combining biblical truths with good music that won’t put me to sleep! The main reason I use music from these churches is because if we were going to ban music from anyone or any group with a questionable past or questionable theological bent, we wouldn’t sing any songs. Moses was a murderer, David was a murderer and an adulterer, Paul was a murderer (there was a lot of death in the Bible) and Jesus saved all of them, and used them for his good. The disciples even wanted Jesus to lead a revolt against the Romans, I think their theology was completely off at that point! I also know that at times my theology has been completely off. If I think I have it all figured out I’m still off! Thankfully God is still God and can and will work despite me and my completely wack theology. Yet in the midst of that, we will still do our best to worship God and equip the saints to better understand God through the gift of music.

Holy Week Services

This past week was the celebration of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. This is one of those holidays that both Protestants and Romans Catholics celebrate together. I always look forward to this week and enjoy the opportunity to try some new things throughout the week. Last year we did our first ever Maundy Thursday service and continued that tradition this year. This year’s service was focused on the communal nature of our faith. I set up 12 tables in our sanctuary and had people gather sit around those tables. The service itself was divided up as following:

Greeting

What is Maundy Thursday? (John 15:12-17, Luke 22)

SING: Jesus Paid It All

Celebrate

The Passover (Exodus 12)

SING: In Christ Alone

Remember

SING: Mercy

The Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)

At each table was: Matzah, bitter herbs, hoaroset, and grape juice.

This was the longest time of the service, and each table had instructions to guide them through the various elements, as well as Scripture readings and explanations of what each element stood for.

Go

Love One Another (John 14:15-31, 1 John 4:7-21)

SING: Give Us Clean Hands

Each of the 4 parts also had a responsive reading and all 3 of the pastors on staff shared speaking responsibilities. Our time together was helpful in thinking through how the Passover applies to today, as well as being able to slow down and reflect more deeply about the Lord’s Supper.

On Friday night I divided the night into 5 parts and focused on the individualistic part of our faith. We are called into a community, but we are still still individually members of that community. Since February, we had been going through a series titled “Christ in the Psalms” so I carried that idea into our Good Friday service. It was divided into 5 sections with a Gospel passage being read aloud, followed by a Psalm displayed on the screen for people to pray through, and a station for people to participate in. As people were walking in there was a half sheet of paper with instructions, a nail and a pen to grab and take in to the service. It was divided as follows:

Remember

Luke 22:14-23

Psalm  105:1-11

Think back to when the cross and the Gospel message first began making sense to you. Write out that story in the space below, if there is not enough room, use the back of your paper.

SING: The Wonderful Cross

Betrayal

John 18:1-32

Psalm 55

IMG_2814

On each side of the front of the sanctuary is a cross painted on a canvas, when you’ve had enough time to reflect, walk down the middle aisles to paint the canvas red. There are wipes for your fingers once you’re done. Please walk back to your seat on the farthest outside aisles.

Suffered

John 19:1-16a

Psalm 73

In the front middle of the sanctuary is a bucket for you to drop the nails you picked up when you entered. Whenever you have had enough time to reflect, please walk down the middle aisles and then return to your seat on the outside aisles.

SING: Were You There

Crucified

John 19:16b-30

Psalm 22

At the bottom of this paper is a space for you to write out why Jesus had to die for YOU. Write out as few or as many sins in that space as God lays on your heart.

It Is Finished

John 19:38-42

SING: Once Again

Psalm 25

On your way out the door, tear off the paper below where you wrote your sins and place them at the foot of the cross at the back of the sanctuary.

If you would like to “borrow” any of these ideas for your services, please do! They were enjoyable to plan and hopefully encouraging to the congregation.

Songs Are Like Sermons

One of the most common phrases I hear about contemporary worship songs is that they lack the depth and richness of hymns. While I would strongly disagree with that statement, I don’t hear the same argument being made for the sermons that are preached or (for most people) the Bible translations we use. When David penned the words, “Sing to the Lord a new song” did he actually mean it, or was it just a cute phrase he penned to mean something else?

One of the things I’ve been reminded about God recently is that we will never fully understand him. His ways are so much superior to ours that we need an eternity with him to be able to adequately understand him (Isaiah 55:8-9). That means that while the Bible is the inerrant and infallible Word of God, it isn’t complete. If God can never be fully grasped, then all the ink and paper in the world could never adequately describe him (John 21:25). Every book about God will fall short in some area. This is one of the many reasons we continue to meet together on a weekly basis in the church: each week we’re reminded of who God is and what he’s about: redemption. The focal point of our time together on Sundays is generally the preaching of the Word which is, hopefully, an explanation of what the Bible is saying and how that applies to our lives today. While the preacher should preach Christ alone, he will still preach through the lens of his own life experiences and understandings, and no two preachers will sound the same. If they don’t preach exactly the same way through the texts of Scripture, can both still be right and faithful to the words of the Bible? I think, and really hope, so! Until Christ returns or we are called home our ideas of God will be skewed and will need to continually be honed and sharpened. We need the church and our family in Christ to continually point us back to God and to the glorious riches offered to us through Christ. We need a new word preached in a new way every week so our hearts of stone can be turned into hearts of flesh. Yet I don’t see the same logic applied to music.

Because God is completely superior to us, all the songs in the world would never be able to adequately describe him. That means we need new songs to be written that can help us to be reminded of who God is and what he is like. As we continue to be made more like Christ through the songs we sing, new understandings of God’s character will emerge and we’ll be able to relate to him in new ways that require new words. I would hope that our faith is an ever growing faith that moves us on to depth and maturity in faith. Yes, we cling to the words of Scripture as the primary source of truth, the norma normans (the rule that rules) while the songs we sing are the norma normata (the rule that is ruled).

So why don’t we hear people say, “These new sermons aren’t like they used to be,” or “These new sermons are so lacking in depth,” or “If only he would preach more like John Calvin”? Yet so many people will say these things about the songs we sing. No-I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater and never sing hymns – there is a legacy there and helps to keep us grounded in the tradition of our faith (just as a side note, that’s why I think reciting creeds as a church is helpful). But that doesn’t mean we need to demonize new songs or new styles within music. God is a God of innovation as he calls each new day into being. Instead of harkening back to a “golden age” of music or church (which I don’t think existed), be grateful for new ways to worship the God who can never be grasped. And in all that we do, whether in word or deed, may we do it all to the glory of God.

Worship Wars

After a week away in Chicago and some time with other EFCA pastors, I got to come back home on Friday night and prepare for meeting with the body on Sunday. Some of my discussions with friends at the conference lead to thinking through some issues related to music and church on Sunday (someone mentioned the book “When the Church Was a Family” which lead to a discussion on this issue). As an introduction to this issue, think through the question: when was the last time you viewed your family through a consumeristic lens? Does your family exist to serve you or to be served by you?

1. We live in a consumeristic world. 

The “i-everything” mindset has permeated into all our thinking. We’re able to enjoy whatever we want with a touch of our finger. We don’t like being inconvenienced or to have anything but our perfect ideas served to us. I can listen to whatever type of music I want on my phone or listen to whomever I want to listen to preach a sermon. This all leads us to draw into ourselves instead of looking for ways we can serve our brothers and sisters around us.

Unfortunately, so many people look for a church to see where they can “be fed” or where they enjoy the music or where they have their friends. There’s no looking around to see how you can serve or get involved and pour out your life for those around you. However, when everyone is looking to see what they can get out of church no one is going to grow or be made more like Christ. The pastor’s job isn’t to feed you, it’s to grow you. Growing sometimes hurts. Growing sometimes means being pushed outside your comfort zone and being forced to wrestle with deep seeded issues that take a lot of time and energy to work through.

This mentality isn’t just for the younger generation. I see many retired people who are convinced church should be all about them. They’ve put in their time and energies during their younger years to give up when they’re getting close to the finish line. Instead of continuing to pour into those younger than themselves, they draw into their own groups and similar ages friends to remember the “good old days” and wish things were the way they used to be. I need and am so grateful for older people who aren’t giving up, but are continuing to faithfully serve the church and equip the next generation to rise up and lead the charge for the next generation. My best youth worker is a retired high school principal who teaches the youth group Sunday School class and checks up on me to help me better pour into the students that attend the youth group. That’s how older Christians are to live with the next generation.

2. We are too focused on ourselves.

This is often done at the expense of those in the church we’ve been called to serve. Because we’re some consumer minded we don’t encourage those around us like we’re called to in Ephesians 5. Yes, Ephesians 5 tells us a number of different types of songs we’re to sing (psalms, hymns and spiritual songs) but at the end, Paul says as we do it we are, “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” That means we must look beyond ourselves to the betterment of the body laying down our interests and passions so the church can grow.

I also think this is the primary reason people don’t sing in church. They’re either too embarrassed by their “bad voice” or they don’t want others to know how their voice sounds. It’s still too focused on yourself instead of encouraging those around you by praising God with your voice.

3. We all have unique and individual preferences.

We are all called to be a part of a body. That means we all have unique contributions to give to the church and all have a job to contribute to the betterment of the body. This means that we need to sacrifice our own wants and desires for the better growth of the gospel in our lives and the lives of those around us. I have a unique style of music I enjoy listening to and a specific style of preaching I best relate to, and I have yet to find a church that has everything I like, including the one I currently serve in. What I’ve looked for in a church is a place that I can serve. As I’ve heard said before (and I don’t remember where, so I’m sorry for not giving the credit where credit is due), “worship is a war, but it’s a war against myself.” Any time I come to worship God I need to fight against my fleshly impulses and selfish desires and wants for the good of the church I’m in.

4. We don’t love.

Francis Schaeffer wrote a book titled, “The Mark of the Christian.” What is that mark? Jesus in John 13 says it’s love. Not our definition of love where there is no calling out for wrongs, but God’s definition as laid out in 1 Corinthians 13. We’re called a family, a new family that runs deeper than just flesh and blood.

I naively thought that the “worship wars” that I’d read so much about were done and gone, and it so often to me feels like some people in the church have missed the memo that worship is about so much more than a style of music and is about God. It’s almost like the story of people who lived for decades without hearing that WWII had ended, and had been living in fear most of their lives. I pray that the church can move beyond individualistic preference and on to a family mindset.