Archive | February, 2017

Why I’m preaching 3 different sermons about modesty…at the same time…kinda…

25 Feb

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Tomorrow I’m preaching 3 different sermons on modesty…at the same time.  Kinda.  Obviously, I can’t speak three sermon simultaneously, unless I recorded them separately and played them all at the same time.  Or maybe I could record two, playing them at the same time as I preach the third.  Imagine the cacophony.

Instead, I’m planning on speaking three sermons on modesty within the same timeframe of 30-35 minutes.  Don’t worry, Faith Church, tomorrow is a coffee break Sunday, so that means coffee and snacks come before the sermon!  You might want to bring extra with you back to your seats.

Actually, the first two sermons on modesty will be rather short.  In fact, I can summarize each of them in one paragraph for you.  Before I do that, though, you might be wondering why I am preaching on modesty at all.  Simply, it is what comes next.  I have been preaching through the biblical book of 1st Timothy, which is actually a letter that the Apostle Paul wrote, around 60AD, to his young associate named Timothy, who was pastor of the church Paul started in the Roman city of Ephesus.  Paul wanted the church to thrive, and he wanted Timothy to thrive as its pastor.  He writes Timothy, then, giving him advice and instruction about numerous matters in the church.

Last week we started chapter 2 in the letter, and we found that chapter 2 includes instructions about worship.  First up was prayer, and Paul talked with the men about raising hands in prayer.  You can read about that here and here.  This week he speaks to the women, instructing them how to dress modestly. That’s why we’re talking about it.  You can see what Paul says in 1 Timothy 2:9-15.

I’ve been thinking about this sermon quite a lot this week, and I’ve decided it is going to require three sermons in one.

The first sermon on modesty is the one that some men have asked me to preach to the ladies.  Here’s a summary:

Dear sisters in Christ, we battle lust in our hypersexualized culture.  It is hard.  We get weary. The last thing we want is to see some of you dressed immodestly.  So help a guy out. Please cover up.

And now for my second sermon on modesty.  This is the one that some ladies have asked me to preach to the men.

Dear brothers in Christ, we are ogled at in our hypersexualized culture.  It is hard.  We get weary.  The last thing we want is to have you checking us out.  So help a girl out. Please look up.

But you know what?  I really don’t want to preach either of those sermons.  There is certainly truth in both of them.  And that’s why I’m still going to preach them.  But I have a third sermon on modesty as well.  It is the one I really want to preach  That one you’ll have to come to Faith Church at 9am tomorrow February 26, 2017, if you would like to hear it.  I hope you can join us!  Then stay for sermon discussion group, where we can talk further.

PS – There might even be a bonus 4th sermon. 

Could prayer meetings and hand-raising be the worship that God really wants?

21 Feb

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Last week I mentioned the massive investment Christians have made in building-centered, staff/program-heavy, Sunday worship.  I wondered if God might evaluate us concluding, “I wish you would have done something different.” But how do we know what God would say?  Most of us involved in leading church worship do want to know God’s evaluation of our worship.  Is it possible to get such an evaluation?

At Faith Church, we’ve been studying the biblical letter of 1st Timothy, and the section we came to on Sunday brought us face to face with an evaluation of our worship.  Read 1 Timothy 2:1-8 to see for yourself.

In verse 3 where Paul says that “this is good and pleases God our savior.” What is good?  What pleases him?  To be a praying people!  “This” refers to verses 1-3 in which Paul is urging them to be a praying people.

You would be hard-pressed to use Scripture to support the investment most church makes in buildings, worship services, and staff (including pastors) that lead programs.  I am not saying that Scripture says those things are wrong and we should stop doing them.  Instead, we need to see Paul here teaching us that Christians demonstrate a commitment to being a praying people.  When it comes to worship, being a praying people is good and pleases God our Savior.

So what will it look like for us to increase our quantity of prayer?

An attempt to answer that question brings to mind the Jim Cymbala quote I put at the top of every Faith Church Wednesday evening prayer meeting guide:

“From this day on, the prayer meeting will be the barometer of our church.  What happens on Wednesday night will be the gauge by which we will judge success or failure because that will be the measure by which God blesses us.”

Think about that quote.  Is it possible that if we are prayer-less or don’t pray enough, we will not access the blessing and power that God offers us?  Is it possible that we emphasize Sunday morning worship too much, and Wednesday evening prayer not enough?

Paul says a few other things about prayer in this passage as well.  But I’d like to jump to his conclusion in verse 8, where he says, “Therefore I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing.”

Based on everything he has said to Timothy about prayer, Paul wants men everywhere to lift up hands in prayer.  Paul has made his case.  He has argued that prayer is vital. He spends time describing what prayer is, who to pray for, what to pray for, and now his conclusion?  Lift up your hands.

I have to admit that I got to that part and thought to myself, “Huh?  Really?  Why does he care about lifting up of hands?”  And to some degree I still think that.  In fact, I often think that hand-raising can be so contrived.  Like in this video:

Then I think, I’m at least a bit used to the idea of raising hands during the musical part of our worship service.  So why would Paul ask them to raise hands in prayer?  And why does he pinpoint the men?  Notice that in verse 9, which we’ll get to next week, he is going to talk specifically to the women.  If there he is clearly talking to the women, here in verse 8 we know he is specifically talking to the men.  I bring that up because sometimes “men” can be a generic way to speak of both genders.  “Peace to all men, or all mankind”.  Not here though.

Paul wants the men to lift up hands in prayer.

Men at Faith Church, including me, barely ever do this.  Is that cool, in God’s evaluation, or not cool? We have some people, including men, that lift up hands during singing.  Is that the same as what Paul is talking about?  Maybe.  Maybe not.

Let’s approach it from another angle: why do people not lift their hands during prayer?  Should we? Investigate this with me a bit further.

Paul is possibly speaking figuratively here.  It could be that he just wants people to pray, and he is using the words “lift up holy hands” as way of describing prayer.  I grew up in a culture that taught Sunday School children to “bow your heads, fold your hands, and close your eyes”.  Some Christian speakers, before leading a congregation in prayer, say “Would you bow your heads with me?”  They don’t even use the word “prayer” but we all know what they mean.  They don’t really want people to physically bow, do they?  No, they want people to pray.  But the act of bowing has become synonymous with the act of praying.  “Bow your heads in prayer.”  Paul could easily be doing something similar here.  We’re not used to it because raising hands in prayer is not a part of our worship culture.  But it was for them.  Look through the Old Testament and raising hands in prayer is all over the place.  So it could just be cultural.

But let’s not just assume that Paul is speaking figuratively.  What if he does want Christians, and especially men, to raise their hands when they pray?

When I was a student at Bible college, we had chapel service every day in the morning.  At some point a group of students started lifting their hands during worship.  A few weeks went by, and one day the President at the time started off chapel with an announcement.  “There will be no raising of hands here.”  Why not?  Was the president of a Bible college going against the Bible?  It seems so, because here we have Paul specifically telling the men to raise up holy hands in prayer.

Frankly, I read this verse and I don’t like it.   I must admit within me, I rebel emotionally at the idea of raising hands.  Why, Paul, why?  It seems so stupid.  Really, Paul, no one cares whether or not I raise hands in prayer!

I think there are a few ways to respond to that.

First, I need to remember that God is not interested in rituals.  We read that many places as well.  He was regularly upset with the Israelites when they practiced the rituals of worship, especially the vast sacrificial system, but didn’t give their hearts in worship.  God says “I want your hearts, not sacrifices.”   Hand-raising could easily become a ritual.  I start praying and raise my hands just to check it off the list.  Or what if, at the end of each sermon when I normally close in prayer, I say, “OK, men, I’m going to start praying now, so up with your hands!”?  Our God is not into that kind of ritual.  He wants our hearts!

And that is where I think we would do well to examine why we do or do not raise hands.  If done with the right heart motivation, raising hands can show a submissiveness to God. Look at the physical difference between the posture of open hands raised and that of crossed arms.  Open vs. Closed.  Symbolically that says something.  Raised hands can be a plea to God for help, a humility before God.

Paul is not saying that you need to go to Tim Hawkins’ hand-raising class to learn how to do it right.  But we all should look at our inner attitude and motivation when we do raise our hands.  Examine your heart.  Why do you do this?  To draw attention to yourself?  Or because you think you have to?  Or because you are filled with gratitude to God, because you want to show humility and praise to God?

At Faith Church, we have a lot more of us that never raise hands, as compared to those that do.  We have some that want to raise their hands, but are shy.  Or we wonder what people will think if we raise our hands.  Yours truly is in this category.  When we’re singing songs, I have all kinds of thoughts going through my head.  I want to raise my hands, but I don’t want to be showy.  But then I think, maybe I should raise my hands because I’m the pastor.  No, I think, that’s not what God wants.  Not ritual, but heart.  Then I think, yeah, but remember how excited you get at Connor’s soccer games, and your hands are in the air a lot!  And you don’t care what anyone else in the crowd thinks of you.  Michelle is embarrassed at how loud you get.  Why can’t you do that during worship?  True, I tell myself, true.  My fear takes over though.  I rationalize: I don’t need to raise hands, do I?  I mean, God doesn’t really care, right?  He wants my heart, right?  And I usually don’t raise them.

And that is a peak into my heart and mind almost every Sunday.  It can feel like inner turmoil rather than the worshipful, thankful attitude I want to have during singing praise to God.

If that at all resonates with you, are you allowing fear to grip you and control you, more than your desire to lift up your hands as act of praise and prayer showing your submissiveness to God?  I can’t answer that for you.  It could be that a lot more of us do need to raise our hands.  But none of us should judge.  Whether we see people raising hands a lot and think they should less, or whether we don’t see people raising hands much and think they should more, let us not be a people of judging one another.  What is important is the heart!

Let us also, Christian brothers and sisters, be a people of prayer.  I love that during most Faith Church worship services, we have an open mic sharing and prayer time.  But I also love that we have Wednesday evening 7-8pm focused on prayer. There are many other ways and places that we can pray.  Sunday School classes, small groups, Bible studies, one on one, before meals or before bed time.  I encourage all those things.

But let me ask, family of Faith Church: what is your schedule like on Wednesday at 7pm?  Seriously.  Will you consider making Wednesday evening prayer meeting a priority?  We won’t force you to pray out loud.  We don’t require long, eloquent prayers.  We have a short Bible study, right now we’re going through the book of Joshua, and then we pray.  We have a time for requests, we pray through the bulletin prayer list, we pray for any requests that are submitted via the connection cards, email, or otherwise, and then we start praying for our church and ministry.  I find the time usually flies by!  Will you join us so that we can become more the praying people that God wants us to be?

What if Christianity’s massive investment in worship is wrong?

17 Feb

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Is it possible that Christianity’s massive investment in worship is misguided?

Think about it.  We invest a lot of time, money and energy into worship, don’t we?

One morning or evening each week is devoted to it.  Our society is very much oriented toward a weekly schedule that keeps Sunday mornings free.

We also build buildings for worship.  We don’t have to.  We could worship without them.  But it is also not wrong to build buildings.  The simple matter of fact, though, is we build buildings, lots of them.  I don’t know the specific number, but I have heard that there are about 800 churches in Lancaster County, and most of them have buildings and property.  Some are massive, some tiny, and many sizes in between.  Drive around Lancaster County and start tallying up the church buildings and you lose count.  Think about that with me for a minute.  What would you estimate the average value of a church building and property to be?  Now multiply that by 800.  Then add the years upon years of furnishings, utilities and upkeep.  That’s a lot of money, isn’t it?  I wouldn’t doubt the figure is in the billions of dollars.

Then think about the other costs of worship.  Staff is the big one.  That’s me.  The pastors.  Then there are worship leaders and the many other staff.  Multiply that by 800 churches, and here in Lancaster we spend a lot of money on hiring people to be involved in worship and worship programs, don’t we?

Next think of the time involved.  Not just the 1.5 to 3 hours that you spend attending worship service and classes.  Also add in the prep time, the volunteer time.  Multiply that by 52 weeks every year.  The result is a boatload of hours.

Put it all together and what do you have?  We Christians make a massive investment in worship, don’t we?  Why do we do this?  The standard answer, and it is a good one, is that we give so much because God is worthy of our worship.

Not so fast, though.  God is worthy, no question about it, but does that mean we can worship him however we want?

Because we invest so much into worship, it is incumbent on us to evaluate our investment, right?  When you give time and energy and money to something, you are being responsible if you evaluate how that time, energy and money is being used, right?

How many of you would want to stand before God in heaven and hear him say “Your worship was seriously wrong.  All that time and energy and money you spent on Sunday mornings in your buildings with your professional staff and worship services with songs and sermons and classes…I didn’t want you to do that!”  You would want to know that,  right?  And you’d want to know what God wants sooner rather than later, wouldn’t you?  I would.  In fact, even if he said “You were on the right track, you were mostly right, about 75% correct in your investment in worship, but here are some things I wish you had done differently…” I would want to know that too!  I would want to know even if we only got 5% wrong.  Even if it was 1%.  But how can we know?

When I meet people who don’t know much about Faith Church, they often have a series of questions they ask me:  How big is the church?  Is it inter-generational?  And what kind of worship do you have?  When they ask about worship, they’re not wondering about my sermons.  They are wondering about the music!  Is it traditional, contemporary, blended?  We had a guest musician at our church a year ago or so for a special service, and he asked me that question: “What kind of worship do you have?”  When I answered “experimental”, you should have seen the wrinkled up, confused look on his face.  It was great!   More recently I have changed my answer a bit.  I still describe our worship as experimental, but I try to explain it a bit because people don’t know what I mean.

So what do I mean by “experimental”?  People from Faith Church reading this might actually be confused by what I’m saying here because most Sundays we have a typical standby kind of worship.  If you’ve been with us for a couple months, you know what I mean:  welcome & announcements, focusing prayer, worship songs (mixture of old and new), sharing time, prayer, dismissal of kids, sermon, closing song, fellowship time.  Doesn’t sound very experimental does it?

But I say that we are experimental because about once per quarter we try to do something completely different.  Silent Sunday, Church has left the building, Worship in the park, worship in the Fellowship Hall around tables, artistic Sunday, change up the order of worship, change the method of communion, etc.  It has been wonderful having the variety!

Why do we experiment with worship?

We experiment because we don’t ever want to give ourselves the idea that we have worship figured out.  We always want to have the posture of learners when it comes to worship.  There is no one right way to worship. We can learn from many different Christian traditions and new and upcoming styles about worship. Silent Sunday, for example, was informed by Quaker and Taize worship.  We want to keep learning.

Why am I saying all this about experimental worship and being learners about worship?  Because on our next two Sundays in our study of 1st Timothy, Paul teaches Timothy about worship.  This is perfect for people who see themselves as learners of worship.  Learners of worship don’t come to worship expecting to worship how they like to worship. Instead learners of worship come to worship services expecting God to teach them.  That’s you and me. We are learners of worship.  Disciples are learners from Jesus.  And when we come to worship we come with hearts and minds that pray “Lord teach me today.  Teach me how to worship you.  Teach me what you want to teach me.”

Learners come to worship with teachable hearts and minds!  And for the next two Sundays we are going to learn from Paul how to worship.  Paul wanted Timothy to teach the church in Ephesus about worship. You are welcome to join us at Faith Church at 9am on Sunday if you want to learn about worship too!  To prepare you might consider reading 1st Timothy 2.  Hope to see you there!

Two things Christians should fight for

14 Feb

Image result for fight the good fightPaul tells Timothy to fight the good fight.  Generally Christians are not supposed to be fighting.  So what fight is Paul talking about?  He calls it a good fight.  Not too many fights could be described as good ones.

Life can feel like a fight.  Have you ever felt that way?  Life seems too hard sometimes doesn’t it?   Is that what Paul is referring to?

Actually, Paul is saying, the fight to stay faithful to the Lord is a good fight. And maybe that resonates with you.  If you are a following of Jesus, you might know the feeling of how difficult it can be to remain faithful to the Lord.  This life is full of temptations which, if we caved in, would lead us to be unfaithful to God.  Sometimes it is our own bodies that tempt us.  Sometimes it is an addiction.  We know that Satan loves to tempt us.  Sometimes it is other people.  Staying faithful to God can seem like a battle.  Paul says it is a good fight.

 

In our study of 1st Timothy, we have come to chapter 1, verses 18-20.  There Paul describes  what he wants Timothy to fight for: first, to hold on to faith, and, second, to hold on to a good conscience.

The image here of holding on is a person who is holding on to an object and not letting go.  It is an iron grip.  I know in life it can often feel like we are losing grip on our faith.  In the next verse Paul is going to refer to some guys that did just that.  Hymenaeus and Alexander, he says, lost their faith.  Part one of fighting the good fight is to hold on to faith.

The second thing Paul wants Timothy to hold on to is a good conscience.  What is the conscience?

One scholar says that it is “the psychological faculty which can distinguish between right and wrong”.  That same scholar goes on to say that “In some languages [this word] may [refer to] ‘the inner voice’ or ‘the voice in one’s heart’ or ‘how one knows right from wrong.’”

So Paul is referring to something that is inherently within us.  We believe that God created all humanity with this inner voice, this true psychological faculty to distinguish right from wrong.  That doesn’t mean that all people will do the right thing.  You can know the right and not do it.  I think we all are very aware of this in our lives.  How many times do we know what is right, but we do what is wrong?  What is worse, it seems that the more we do the wrong, the less we are aware of the right.

We can see why Paul would place such importance on fighting the good fight in the areas of faith and good conscience. Hold tightly on to them!

How do we hold on to a good conscience?

  1. Keep a sensitive ear to the voice of the Lord. The means we should practice prayer.
  2. Remain teachable.  Remember the story of Samson in the Old Testament?  He didn’t even realize that God had departed from him.  He wasn’t teachable.
  3. Read the Bible. It is our instruction.  We need to know who God is and what he wants us to do.
  4. Be doers of the word, which means that when you read the Bible, you then do what it says. This may require change.
  5. Have accountability. This means close fellowship with other Christians.

We have to intentionally work at being sensitive to God. If you let it go one day, it will be easier the next day to grow callous to God.  If you keep letting it go, you can find yourself quite distant from God.

In the physical world, the less food we get, the hungrier we get.  In the spiritual world, it is the opposite: the less food we get, the less spiritually hungry we get.  If you skip lunch, you’re crazy hungry by dinner, right?  If you skip out on spending time with God, though, you start to lose desire for it.  I wish the spiritual worked like the physical in this regard.  I wish I would get spiritually hungrier if I skipped time with God.  But I have found that when I distance myself from God, I only grow more apathetic about him.

It is more like relationships.  When distance is put between two people, they start to fall away.  So we need to fight the good fight, holding on to faith and a good conscience.

To successfully fight the good fight, I’d like to talk a bit more about one of the suggestions I made above, remaining teachable.  I have found in the last 20 years or so, that a healthy self-awareness, humility and teachability are perhaps the most important foundation a disciple of Jesus must have.  If we want to fight the good fight, first we must be teachable and humble.

We should be Christians who are seeking out the truth about ourselves.   Think about yourself.  Are you actively seeking people to speak the blunt honest truth about yourself?  Or are you thinking “I’m scared of what people think about me…I want to avoid it.  I don’t want to hear what people think of me.”  Would you rather live in a fantasy world of your own making?

Many of us choose to live in a fantasy world because it is much easier.   In those fantasy worlds, we are generally pretty awesome people who don’t have to change.  In those fantasy worlds we can tell ourselves that we are good.  But a huge part of holding on the faith and a good conscience is being humble and teachable.

It means having a healthy self-awareness, and a willingness to speak openly and honestly about yourself, both your successes and your failings.   And that means that you invite the tough stuff into your world.

So let us fight the good fight, hold on to faith, and a good conscience.

Fighting the good fight implies that it will be tough.  Paul doesn’t say “sleep on a cozy bed.”  “Eat delicious desserts”  “Enjoy a stress-free walk.”

He says “fight the good fight.”  It is good.  And it is a fight.  It is good, worth it, fighting for the mission of the  Kingdom of God. It is a fight against evil, a fight against injustice, a fight against Satan, a fight against selfishness and pride.

But it is a fight, and fights are hard.  They require energy, time, and usually bring pain and hurt.  Disciples of Jesus are fighters.  But they fight the good fight.

Jesus said something about this fighting concept when he said, “take up your cross and follow me.”  He was referring to self-denial.  It is a fight. Often a fight against our inner inclination toward selfishness.

If you don’t want to shipwreck your faith, you’ve got to keep fighting.

How is your faith grip-strength?

11 Feb

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What is your grip strength?  Did you ever take a grip strength test?

Have you ever used grip strengthening handles?  You squeeze them over and over, hoping to strengthen your grip.

It is a good thing to strengthen your grip.

I bring this up, because I want you to think about your grip on your faith in God?

Do you ever feel like your grip on your faith is wearing thin?

Have you ever had a time in life when you lost your faith?  Turned your back on faith?  Or when you really felt distant from God?

Think about it right now.  How close are you to God?  You might feel like you have a strong grip on faith in God.  Maybe it could be stronger?  You might feel like your grip on faith is failing.  You might feel like you have no grip at all.

In our church like ours, I imagine that our church family is all over the spectrum.  It would be unwise and naïve to assume that every single one of us have a strong faith and feel really close to God.

So evaluate your faith.  Do you have a tight grip on faith, or is it weak, or no grip at all.

When we talk about having a grip on our faith, I am insinuating that we have to do something about our faith, that we have a responsibility to hold on to it.  And that we can lose hold of it.  I am saying that we have a responsibility to hold on to our faith.  We are involved in the process.

But am I right?  What is our involvement in holding on to our faith?  Maybe I’m wrong.  Christians have long debated this.  Is faith a work of God or a work of people?

Today as we continue studying Paul’s first letter to Timothy, we’re talking about grip strength, our faith grip strength.

We invite you to join us at Faith Church, 9am, as we look at what Paul says about faith grip strength.  To get a preview, read 1st Timothy 1:18-20.