Tag Archives: church

The time our church was accused with the words: “That’s not worship!”

18 Oct

“That’s not worship.”

The person speaking the words was really frustrated at our church.

They were talking about a change we made to our worship service.  In that person’s view, the change had turned our worship service into something that was not worship.

What change could we make that would take a worship service and no longer make it worship?  How did this person know what worship is?  Were they right?

As I look back on that situation, I see evidence of the tendrils of tradition, sneaking their way into the hearts and minds of people unawares.

This October 2017 at Faith Church we are looking at the Five Solas of the Reformation, because it was 500 years ago this month that a German Catholic monk name Martin Luther sparked the Protestant Reformation leading to sweeping changes in Christianity.  The Five Solas are summaries of the teachings of Luther and his fellow reformers.  After Sola Gratia (Grace Alone) and Sola Fide (Faith Alone), we have begun to look at Sola Scripture (Scripture Alone).  I started by asking questions about the Bible and Sola Scriptura here and here.

To begin to answer those questions, I said yesterday, we need to attempt to understand the religious culture Luther lived in.  I am no church historian, so this summary is basic at best.

Luther was trained in the Medieval age of the church, during which time the church placed a high value on tradition alongside of or even above the teaching of Scripture.  In Rome, which was the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church, there is something called the Magisterium, the group of leaders of the church including the Pope.  What the Magisterium said in Luther’s era was given equal or greater weight than what Scripture said.

The problem is that so often the line between Scripture and tradition starts to blur.  We can assume that a certain tradition is taught in the Bible.  Luther confronted his Medieval church about these blurred lines.  He said that if a doctrine or practice is not taught by scripture, it must be seen as just an opinion.  He held the writings of the church fathers, and the creeds, church councils, in high esteem, but said they too must be judged by Scripture.  Luther taught that Scripture birthed the church, not the other way around.  Therefore Scripture should be more foundational than the church.

To demonstrate this, Luther translated the Bible into German, and some believe that was his greatest contribution.  He wanted German farm boys, for example, to feel the words of the Bible in their hearts, and that was only possible in their own language.

Prior to Luther, the Bible was in Latin.  You had to be a priest trained in Latin to read and teach the Bible.  Of course the rare Latin scholar could read it as well.  But most people didn’t know Latin.  They were Germans who knew German.  They were French who knew French.  English who knew English.  They would go to church, however, and the church service, including the Bible reading would be in Latin!  Copies of the Bible were too expensive to own, so in the Medieval age, most people did not have a copy of the Bible, and thus they couldn’t be like the Bereans in Acts 17:10-15 and test out what the priests and church magisterium said.  They just followed along.

That meant the church had tons of power.  Luther felt they abused their power.  One way they abused their power, and this really got under Luther’s skin, was the practice of indulgences.  Indulgences were pieces of paper that the church sold to people.  The paper was a certificate saying that a person had purchased forgiveness of sins.

The church leaders in Rome were trying to build a big new cathedral.  They were strapped for cash to build this monstrosity, so they sent representatives around Europe to sell indulgences.  These reps told people that paying money can get your sins forgiven.  Would it surprise you to learn that the church made a lot of money?  It reminds me of this In Living Color skit (starting at the 9:00 minute mark):

Luther seethed at this.  As he should.  The church was seriously abusing its power.  They were creating a tradition that was not supported by Scripture.

This is very reminiscent of Jesus’ concern with the Pharisees.  Jesus would say to the Pharisees “haven’t you read the Scripture?”  “Don’t you know what the Scripture says?”  Imagine that scene.  Jesus telling the Bible experts that they need to go back and read their Bibles!  (Matthew 12:3 and 19:4 are a couple examples.) How did this happen?  How could Bible teachers miss out on the true teaching of the Bible?  It happened because the Pharisees were so concerned about their traditions that they allowed the tradition to be more important than the heart of the Scripture.

But thank goodness we don’t do this anymore, right?  We don’t lay any traditions on top of Scripture.  We have the Bible in our own language.  Like the invention of the printing press made it very possible for Luther and other reformers to get the Bible in the language of the people, we have the internet making it even easier yet!  So that means we don’t have any problems with tradition and false teaching, right?  We have this Sola Scriptura thing are cared for, right?

Wrong.

That takes me back to the situation I mentioned at the beginning of this post where someone at my church said, in response to worship changes, “That’s not worship.”  Here’s what happened.

In 2006-7 we participated in a church health survey sponsored by our denomination, the EC Church.

We took the survey in 2006.  Results came back saying that we needed to work on our worship service.  So we started making little changes here and there.  One of the changes was that we opened the accordion dividers separating our fellowship hall and sanctuary.  The dividers are there in case our sanctuary is so full we need overflow space.  Normally they are closed.  As a result of the survey, we opened the dividers and invited people to sit in the fellowship hall during worship if they wanted.  Our thought was that maybe some people wanted a less formal setting.

The accordion dividers were open for one month, and then closed again.  Why?  Because some people reacted negatively against them being open.

That’s not worship?

It was in a worship committee meeting, as we were reviewing the changes and negative response that the person said, “That’s not worship.” They were adamant about it.

But think about that.  “That’s not worship?”

What did that person mean?  They meant that a worship service, in their understanding, should only take place in a sanctuary with all the trappings of a sanctuary.  And they wanted the accordion dividers closed.

Where did they get their idea of what worship is, that it can’t be in room that has pews on one side and tables and chairs on another side?  I can tell you they did not get it from the Bible.

You read how the early worshiped in the New Testament, in the book of Acts and the Epistles.  They met in homes.  They worshiped on riversides.  There were no church buildings and sanctuaries in the Christian church for a couple hundred years.  Worship is not about a building, we read in the Bible, but worship is about worshipers, people, who are worshiping the Lord.  Not a location.

So what did this person mean when they said, “That’s not worship”?

That person was talking about tradition!  They had grown up in and become comfortable with and appreciated a certain kind of worship.  There is nothing wrong with worship services in buildings that have rooms with pews and pulpits and pianos or organs or praise bands, or movable chairs, or any of the many variations that sanctuaries in church buildings have.  There is nothing wrong with it, but we cannot say that the Bible tells us to worship like that.

That person had elevated tradition over the Bible.

Years ago we did a summer reading club and read Frank Viola’s book Pagan Christianity.  It is eye-opening about how much tradition we have placed over the Bible.

Sunday School is another example.  You won’t find that in the Bible.  But I once had someone tell me Sunday School is the backbone of the church, insinuating that we better not mess with it.  That person was elevating tradition over the Bible.

I could go on and on, but instead I encourage you to read Pagan Christianity.  Perhaps we are just as guilty of elevating tradition over the Bible, though 500 years Luther warned us of this very thing.

So what do we do with these Bibles of ours?  What is Sola Scriptura?  By Scripture Alone.  What does it mean?  I’ve taken a long time to say what it doesn’t mean.  Now that we have asked the questions, showed Scripture’s primacy over tradition, we can examine Sola Scriptura, and that is where we’re headed tomorrow.

Is Sola Scriptura broken? (or Can we really read the Bible and hear from God?)

17 Oct

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When you read the Bible, do you think that God will speak to you through it?  How do you know that you will understand it properly?  What if God wants to tell you X and you believe he said Y?

Does Sola Scriptura mean that any Christian can just open up the Scriptures and understand it by the work of the Holy Spirit in their minds?  Do we need the church to interpret Scripture for us, or can we interact with Scripture alone?

We might say, “Yes! We can definitely read the Bible for ourselves and hear from God.”  Take a look at 1 Corinthians 2:12.  Paul says that we have been given the Spirit of God so that we might understand what God has given us.  Seems like that could really apply to understanding the Bible.  Actually, it does apply to the Bible.  When we read Scripture we can and should pray that the Holy Spirit will help us understand it.

But let me push back on this idea a bit.

Anne Hutchinson’s example is a case about how this view of Sola Scriptura didn’t work.  Why?

She felt the Holy Spirit was helping her understand the Bible.

Her Puritan religious community also felt that the Spirit was helping them understand the Bible.

You see the problem yet?  They both claimed the Spirit’s help, and they came to different interpretations.  Now do you see the problem?  If they both had the same Spirit’s help, then shouldn’t they have arrived at the same interpretation?

Would the Holy Spirit give them conflicting interpretations?  No.  So what was going on in Boston in 1636?

The reality is that Christians arrive at conflicting interpretations all the time, and we have done so from nearly day 1 of the church.  So if the Holy Spirit isn’t giving out conflicting interpretations of the Bible, what is going on?

I think there are many possible ways to answer that question:

  • Maybe there are Christians who claim to have the Spirit’s interpretation, but they actually don’t?  I’m sure that happens more than we realize.  But how would we ever know who had the Spirit’s interpretation and who didn’t?
  • And shouldn’t preference be given to church leaders who go to seminary and get ordained, because they have training?
  • Is it possible that the Puritans were not correct in their teaching of Sola Scriptura, or maybe Anne Hutchinson just misunderstood what it meant?

More importantly, what does all this mean for us?

How many of you own a Bible that is printed in English that you can read on your own?  How many of you have the Bible on your electronic device, like the Bible app on your phone?

We believe that we can read those Bibles and understand what God is speaking to us, right?

Are we wrong to believe that?  Perhaps we should be a lot more cautious?  Should we only get our interpretations of the Bible from ordained pastors, from those who have gone to school to learn the Bible?

To answer those questions, it will be very helpful for us to go back to Martin Luther.  His 95 Theses pretty much set things in motion for us to ask all these questions.  So to arrive at some answers, we first need to get an idea of how Martin Luther’s religious culture looked at the Bible.  And that is where we’re headed tomorrow.

What kind of worship does God really want?

3 Jul

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Years ago I had a summer book club at Faith Church, and one of books we read was Jim & Casper Go To Church.  It is written by a Christian, Jim Henderson, and an atheist, Matt Casper.  Jim invited Matt to travel around the country and attend worship services in churches of all shapes and sizes, from a couple massive churches in arenas to smaller churches and many in between.  As he took in worship services at these churches, quite often Casper asked Jim the same question, “Did Jesus really tell you to do that?”

That’s a good question.  It is basically the question, “Is this how God wants us to worship him?”

It could be very easy to be critical of the mega churches. smoke machines, and professional praise bands, and huge auditoriums. But it is a question that should be asked of any church worship service.

On any Sunday at Faith Church, I look around the room we call a sanctuary, and I think that we should ask the same thing: “Did God tell us to do this?”

Do you know the answer to Casper’s question?

God says that we should worship him. No doubt about that.  But did God tell us that he wants to be worshipped like this?

Did he want us to build church buildings?

The answer is No.  God wants us to be people who worship him, Yes.  And we can worship him in a church building, with songs and chairs and classes.  We can worship him with sound systems and video projectors and hymnals and pews.  We can worship him with all of it.

But let us remember that God didn’t ask for all that.  When it comes to worshiping him, he didn’t ask for any of the religious, churchy stuff that we spend a lot of time and money on.

Furthermore, the danger of all the churchy stuff is that we can deceive ourselves into thinking that Sunday morning worship and all the activity that we do on Sunday is what God desires.  We can deceive ourselves into thinking that if we come to a church worship service, then we have satisfied the desires of God.

Here’s the harsh truth.  We don’t need any of this to worship God.  None of it.  We don’t need a building, we don’t need all the stuff in the building, and we don’t even need a timeslot on Sundays for a worship gathering.  We can satisfy the worship desires of God without any of it.

But how?

By understanding what God desires worship to actually be.  The answer to Matt Casper’s question is “no, God did not tell us to do all this.”  We added it.  All this churchy stuff is not inherently wrong.  We can worship God in a church building, by singing songs, giving an offering, praying, sharing stories of how God is at work in our lives, by studying the Bible, by fellowshipping and encouraging one another.  All this stuff we do on Sundays, all of it, can be worshipful.  But we need to see that we added it.

So what is worship supposed to be?

First of all, prepare to worship every day. 

Paul once said that no matter what we do, even whether we’re just doing the mundane everyday stuff of life, like eating and drinking, do it all to the glory of God.

So how do you do that?  Try to have a daily practice of starting each day by offering thanksgiving to God.  Count your blessings.  Maybe when you first wake-up.

Then Read Scripture. When we read Scripture consistently, it results in more knowledge of God, and that results in more accurate worship.  In Scripture we learn to know him better, more accurately, more intelligently.

Second, see worship as happening 24/7.  How do you do that?

Saying “Your will be done”.  Remember when Jesus was about to be arrested and crucified?  He was praying in the Garden.  He knew how incredibly hard it was going to be.  He was headed toward a brutal beating and death.  He was in anguish about this as he prayed to God.  But he worshiped God anyway saying “Not my will, but yours be done.”

We might not like the situation we’re in.  Work might be horrible.  Parenting can be frustrating.  A relationship can be awful.  Money might be tight.  Worship God 24/7, right in the middle of the pain by saying “Not my will, but yours be done.”

By saying that, Jesus was essentially saying “God, I’m in the middle of the junk.  And I want to honor and glorify you even if the pain and crisis and struggle is not taken away from me.”  That’s some real, deal worship right there.  And when you worship like that, you are saying to God, “I want to obey you, Lord, even though it might get hard.”

This is very much in line with what Paul says Romans 12:1-2 – what is our spiritual act of worship – to offer our bodies as living sacrifices.

Say, “Lord, here I am at school.  I offer myself to you.  Here I am at work, I offer myself to serve you.  Here I am at home, I give myself to you.”

Thankfully, life is not always hard!  In fact, many times, praise God, he blesses us, and we get to enjoy the fruits of our labor, the joy of the Lord, the wonders of life on planet earth.  We can and should worship God during those times of blessing as well.  If you haven’t seen the movie Chariots of Fire, I urge you to check it out. It is the true story of Eric Liddell who was an Olympic miler. He was also a Christian.  He talks about how when he ran, he could feel God’s pleasure!  You can worship while you run, while you eat, while you enjoy vacation.

You can worship during the mundane as well.  Life is neither always awful, nor always joyful. Often life is filled with tasks that just have to get done.  Some you might dislike.  But you can also enjoy the mundane.  Mowing the lawn.  Raking leaves.  Worship while you work through these tasks too, like changing diapers, cleaning the toilet.  All of this can be done in worship, Paul said, done to the glory of God.

We especially spend a lot of time at work, don’t we.  So work as unto to the Lord.  Work hard.  Work without complaining.  Work with joy.  With creativity.

Practice the Presence of God.  Be in a conversation with God all day long, as much as you can.

Invite God to be right there with you.  Next to your desk.  Watching what you watch on your computer.

Third, learn the spiritual exercise of focused periods of worship as larger church family.

Let me share a private thought I have, one that I wrestle with. We have 130 people in our congregation.  But our Sunday morning attendance?  It has been around 95, 100, or 105 over the last few years.

What is going on?  25% of our congregation is not here, on average, every single week.  That is true in most churches.  Why is this happening?

But know this: there is an element of the Christian life, that can never be experienced by watching worship on TV or the internet, by listening to a podcast, or being alone in nature.

Worship is not just the songs.  Worship is the giving, the sharing, the encouraging, the prayer, the learning.  An extremely important part of worship is doing it together.  Getting the family together.  Do you need to change your heart attitude toward Sunday worship?  Do you need to gather with your church family more frequently?

Fourth we should practice the spiritual exercise of personal periods of focused worship.  This is when we take some time to focus on God, alone with him. This is when we put aside all we’re doing, get alone, without letting anyone know what we’re doing, and worship God alone.  This time alone with God can include song, Scripture, prayer.  It’s up to you.  When I read the Psalms, many of them were written out of an individual’s private, personal worship of God.  Include this as part of your regular prayer and Bible reading.

Start the day with personal worship.  Do not worry about other people who can do it better than you.  You don’t have to go to seminary or be a professional theologian to get alone and worship God.

Maybe just count your blessings. One of my favorite passages is Psalm 116:12-18. Allow the history of God’s blessings in your life to motivate you to praise and thank him, so that you can live out your day in a thankful, worshipful heart and mind.

We’re all different.  Some people might really be able to worship while driving, and for another person that might be next to impossible.

But remember that if worship doesn’t mean singing praise songs all day long, we can think about worshiping in other ways during the day.  Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

Rejoice in the Lord, always, and again I say, rejoice, Paul reminded us in Philippians.

 

In conclusion, like any of the spiritual disciplines, Worship can be hard work.  Think about it.  Worship is an act of retaining focus on God.  We can be a people of short-attention span.  It can be hard to stay focused on God.

But when we focus on God, something amazing happens.  People become like that which we focus on.  Focus on God and we will become like him.

Have an attitude that says “I want to learn to worship better.”  So maybe you need a trainer.  If you look at a person and realize “That person excels at worshiping God 24/7,” contact them as ask them to train you to be a better worshiper.

Advice to a new young pastor (and what all of us can learn from it)

27 Mar

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On July 1, 2008 I became the senior pastor of Faith Church.  I was scared.  What had I gotten myself into?  I had been youth/associate pastor at the church for the previous six years.  The youth group was awesome, and I had a ministry umbrella over me, deflecting the rain of difficulty, responsibility, and leadership.  That umbrella was the senior pastor.  On July 1st, 2008, I learned what it was like when that umbrella was gone.

Actually, I was surprised to discover the umbrella wasn’t gone.  I became the new umbrella.  I was the responsible one.  In the months leading up to that day, I was excited, I had dreams and looked forward to becoming the pastor.  I also held secret fears and anxieties.  Was I cut out for this?  I had a really good gig as youth pastor! Was I stupid for making the change?  So I read and listened to one passage of Scripture over and over.  It is a good one for young or new pastors.  If you’re not a young or new pastor or leader in the church, I think you’ll find that it is very important for you as well.

Take a look at 1st Timothy 4:11-16, and see if you can find out why this passage was meaningful to me.

I identified with Timothy because in verse 12 Paul says to Timothy, “don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young.”

I wonder who was looking down on Timothy?  When Paul goes on to ask Timothy to set an example for the believers, it is best to understand that it was people in Timothy’s church looking down on him because he was young.

But how young was he?  We don’t know.  The word Paul uses could refer to someone as old as 40.  Some feel Timothy was maybe in his mid-30s.  I was 33 in July 2008, so this verse seemed like it was written to me!  Most scholars tell us that at the time Paul wrote this, Timothy could be anywhere from 25-40 years old.  The point, though, is not his specific age but that culturally it was not normal for a young person to have a position of authority.

Furthermore, Timothy is trying to fill some big shoes.  This church was started by Paul, one of the most respected leaders in the entire Christian church, from Jerusalem to Rome.  These Ephesian Christians could easily be talking to the Christians down the road in a town like Colossae, saying with chests puffed out, “Yeah, Paul is OUR pastor.  You should have heard the other day the discussion we were having in the lecture hall of Tyrannus with some Greek philosophers.  He schooled them!  It was awesome.  It rocks having Paul as your pastor.”

After a few years Paul leaves, and he installs Timothy as leader.  Timothy was young, and because of what Paul says to Timothy in his letters, we wonder if Timothy also had a much more timid style than Paul.

What a difference from older respected Paul to younger timid Timothy!

Over the years I have heard of pastoral transitions gone bad.  A new pastor follows the tenure of a well-loved leader, and the new pastor struggles in the shadow of that leader.  Maybe you’ve heard of a church like that. It happens regularly, truth be told. Anecdotal evidence suggests that 25% of a congregation will leave a church when there is a pastoral transition, and if true, that is sad.  From July 1, 2008 to July 1, 2010, we experienced something like that at Faith Church. Some of the attrition was the result of poor decisions on my part.  Some was death.  But a number of people left because I was different from the previous pastor.  I suspect some moved on simply because I was young, about half the age of the previous pastor, and young enough to be the grandson of many of the senior members of the congregation. I know there was a lot of talk going on during those years.  Some of it made it to me, much didn’t.

You can bet that kind of talk is going on there in Ephesus.  And you can bet Paul has heard about!  “Man, Paul, are you sure about Timothy?  He’s…well…young.  Are you sure he’s ready?  I’m mean, have you heard him preach?”

It is possible that Timothy’s authority, gifts, and abilities for leading the church are being called into question.  I have a feeling that not only has Paul heard about it, but so has Timothy.  It might have been Timothy who contacted Paul saying, “Are you sure about this?  Are you sure I’m ready?  These people aren’t always responding so well.  I’m getting push-back about being young. I don’t know that they will respect me.”

And so Paul says “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young.”  What does looking down on mean?  It is defined as “to feel contempt for someone or something because it is thought to be bad or without value.”[1]

“Don’t allow people to look down on you, Timothy,” Paul says.  But I think to myself, how is Timothy actually to deal with this?  If people start disrespecting him, is he going to step in and say, “I do not allow you to do this anymore.”  You can hear the snickering if he would try that.  Now if it got to a point, yes, he could make it a matter of church discipline and confront the poor behavior head on. Maybe he had to. If so, that would have been really difficult.

Disrespect of a leader in the church is always wrong.  No matter how old or young they are, we should respect our leaders.  We might disagree, but we can disagree in a respectful way.  If there is contempt going on, it must stop.  Disrespect and contempt is sinful.  Timothy would be well within his right to confront sin.

When Paul says “don’t let anyone look down on you”, I suspect he is saying to Timothy “you need to deal with the contempt and disrespect, Timothy.  You can’t let it happen. I know it is hard, but if people are behaving poorly, you need to intervene and make sure it stops.”

That is not all Paul says though.  He also makes a very different second suggestion.  I suspect Paul knows that the root of the problem is the age difference.  People that are older do not always have a hard time submitting to and respecting younger people.  Sometimes it goes well.  But let’s face it, the general tendency is for younger people to have older leaders.

How many of you have gotten a new boss that is younger than you, and you have found it hard to respect them?  I’ve heard the stories.  The new young boss comes to the company with energy and new ideas and starts making changes, and it can be very difficult.  They don’t know the culture.  They don’t know the people.  They don’t know what you’ve been through.  And as much as you complained about the old boss, you now find yourself wishing you had the old boss back.

Think it is any different in the church?  It’s not.

Paul has situation on his hands.  He spent so much time with the Christians at Ephesus.  He loves them.  But he has left them in the hands of his young associate Timothy who he also loves. Paul knows exactly who the people in the church are.  He knows their ages.  He knows by name who is probably struggling with Timothy, and as I said above, Paul might already have been hearing from those people: “Can’t you just come back, Paul?  This isn’t going well with Timothy.  Come back!”

So Paul knows Timothy needs to grow up fast.  He gives Timothy a very interesting suggestion.  He says “set an example for the believers.”  Paul could go on and on telling Timothy to confront and discipline.  But he doesn’t.  He says one line about not letting the people despise Timothy, but he moves quickly into a suggestion that is far more powerful: set an example.

“Timothy,” I can hear Paul saying, “I want your life to shine so brightly, that those people have no reason to look down on you.  Set an example for them.  Let your life do the talking.”

When I was in high school at Warwick in Lititz, PA, we had a pretty good basketball program.  We were always a contender for playoffs, and some years went very deep into them.  We also had a very rowdy student section, which I loved.  Cheering for our guys in the overheated old gym is still one of the highlights of my life.  One of my favorite student section cheers was only one word.  Repeated over and over.  Can you guess it?

The game scenario in which we would use this cheer was when my team was leading, and other team would start rallying.  They would be scoring points, catching up, gaining momentum.  That would fire their student section up, and from the other side of the gym they would get louder and louder. Back on our side, we would be feeling nervous.  We didn’t want them to catch up!  Our guys on the floor needed a boost, and we would say one word: Scoreboard. Scoreboard.  Scoreboard.  It was a great cheer.  We would really draw out the word “Scoooooorebooooooard”.  We wanted it to be a sobering reminder to everyone there that though the other team was rallying, we were still ahead.  We were winning.  In that moment, the scoreboard did all the talking.  We didn’t have to say anything, except to point to the truth.

The absolute worst, though, was if the other came back and won the game.  You know what the student section from the other school would start chanting back at us? “Scoreboard…scoreboard.”  Whew was that painful.  But the point was made.  The scoreboard still did the talking.  We might be walking out of the gym dejected, angry, thinking “we are a better team than that. We are way better than that.  We should not have lost.”  But the scoreboard told the truth about what was really going on.

Paul, in other words, is saying here to Timothy, “Let your life example tell the truth about who you really are.  Those people might be saying all kinds of stuff about you.  That you are too young.  You are an inexperienced leader.  That you are not as good a teacher as me.  That you are not as smart as me.  That you are not me. But let your life be the scoreboard.  You won’t have to say a thing, Timothy.  Let your life do the talking.”

How should he set the example?  In five ways: speech, life, love, faith and purity.  These are crucial areas.  Imagine if you were setting the example in these five?

  • Speech obviously is how you talk. No surprise to me that Paul lists it first.  Our mouths get us in trouble!  What would it be like for people to look at you as someone who sets an example in how you talk?  You would be gracious.  You would be kind.  Your words would be gentle, self-controlled.
  • Life is your conduct, your way of life. What would it look like for you to set the example in how you live your life?
  • Love is the word agape. Would people say of you that you are a loving person?
  • Faith, it is important to note, is not just believing the right things. This is best understand as faithful.  Having faithfulness.  Can people say of you: “There is a person who is faithful”?  Not because you know the Bible through and through.  Not because you know a lot of theology.  Faith is primarily not about knowing and believing the right things.  It is that.  But it is much more a choice to live them out.  I recently heard Richard Rohr put it this way “you don’t think your way into a changed life, you live your way into changed thinking.”
  • Paul is kinda saying the same thing over and over here, isn’t he? Be pure.  Be holy.  It’s not easy to do this in our world.  But pursue it. Set an example of purity.

Clearly this passage is not just for young Timothy.  This can apply to everyone.  So review it those five categories, all of us.  Are we setting an example in them?  Might there be one category that you sense God is speaking to you to work on?

[1] Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains 1996 : 762. Print.

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. 

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!

Do we need to take global warming seriously?

18 Nov

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This weekend we finish our series about Life in These United States.  We have been talking about what everyone is talking about.  I’ve enjoyed this series, though it has made me squirm from time to time!  But  as we conclude this series, we look forward to Advent.  Yes, Advent begins next week.  And during Advent we will be studying five passages in the Old Testament prophetic book of Isaiah.  Five passages that talk about the mission of the Messiah.  Then after the new year, we will begin a series through the book of 1st Timothy.

This weekend, though?  Creation care.  Creation care is just theological code for “environmentalism.”  But creation care is different from environmentalism, and I think you’ll see why.

As I was preparing this week, I came across this amazing headline:  “China delegate hits back at Trump’s climate change hoax claims.”

What is that all about?  Four years ago, the article reports, President-elect Trump said “China had created the concept of climate change to make America’s manufacturing sector less competitive, dubbing the global phenomenon…’non-existent’.”

Now this week, the article goes on to say, “Beijing has turned the tables on US President-elect Donald Trump over his accusation that climate change is a Chinese hoax, claiming that it was the Republican’s own party that initiated global warming negotiations.”

Really?  The Republicans?  Can’t be.  Well, it turns out it can be: “Climate change negotiations began with the UN’s International Panel for Climate Change in the 1980s, supported by the US Republican-led administrations under Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush.”  Reagan and Bush?  Did you know that?

Furthermore, “China and the US are the world’s biggest emitters of greenhouse gases that are causing the earth’s temperatures to rise, according to UN data.”

How many of you watch the weather reports on the news that list the record high and low for each day?  How many of you see how often the high for that day was recorded way back in 1894 or 1927 and think “Global warming is a crock.”?  How many of you hear the reports that world-wide the last year few years have been the warmest on record?  What should we think about global warming?  Is it a hoax?

The article above notes that “scientists say a 2-degree Celsius rise would be dangerous for the planet.  The US and China signed the Paris agreement in climate change talks last year, which involves both developed and developing countries. It aims to keep the world’s rise in temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to create a carbon-neutral world by 2100.”  But you have probably heard what President-elect Trump has said about it:  “He plans to dump the agreement, which he described as a ‘bad deal’.”

Why am I bringing this up?   I don’t want this to be a political sermon.  I’m not trying to prove to you what science says about environment.  But the environment is something that is often in the news.  So how should Christians think about it?

Doesn’t the book of Revelation predict that God going to destroy the world?  So what should we care about global warming?  What is the big deal?

Perhaps it is a bigger deal that some people think.

Join us at Faith Church at 9:30am this coming Sunday 11/20/16 as we seek out biblical passages and theological principles that we could apply to our world, teaching us how we should view this planet.