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Posts Tagged ‘worship’

John StonestreetIn my vocation of helper, I sometimes have to do difficult things.  It’s not easy for me as a Christian to point out that the Church has failed the culture, but it has.  Keith Getty’s song “In Christ Alone” and Rachel Held Evans’ blog on why the millennials are leaving the church were already added to my Facebook page.  John Stonestreet’s commentary reminds us that Jesus — as He defines Himself and what He has done for us — is all that matters.  Thank you, sir!  As for the rest of you, tell me.  Do you agree with John who writes:

Recently, the Presbyterian Church (USA) dropped the hugely popular hymn, “In Christ Alone,” from its hymnal after its authors, Keith Getty and Stuart Townend, refused to omit a reference to Jesus satisfying the wrath of God.

In a powerful response over at First Things, which we’ll link to at BreakPoint.org, Colson Center chairman Timothy George quotes Richard Niebuhr who, back in the 1930s, described this kind of revisionist Protestantism as a religion in which “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.”

The response from the PCUSA, that their problem was not with God’s wrath but with the idea that Christ’s death satisfied God’s wrath, doesn’t change the fundamental problem of what George calls “squishy” theology. Theology is supposed to be true, not palatable.

Along these lines, maybe you’ve seen the recent viral opinion piece on CNN by my friend, Christian blogger and author Rachel Held Evans. In it, Evans offers her answers to the truly important question, “why are millennials leaving the Church?”

To counter the exodus of young people from American churches, Evans says it’s time to own up to our shortcomings and give millennials what they really want—not a change in style but a change in substance. The answer to attracting millennials, she writes, is NOT “hipper worship bands” or handing out “lattés,” but actually helping them find Jesus.

Amen. I couldn’t agree more.

Then she goes on, “[the Church is] too political, old-fashioned, unconcerned with social justice and hostile to [LGBT] people.” Well, okay—anytime political programs co-opt our faith, or we ignore the needy and fail to love those with whom we disagree, we do the Gospel of Christ great harm.

But when she writes that attracting millennials to Jesus involves “an end to the culture wars,” “a truce between science and faith,” being less “exclusive” with less emphasis on sex, without “predetermined answers” to life’s questions, now I want to ask–are we still talking about the Jesus of biblical Christianity?

The attempt to re-make Jesus to be more palatable to modern scientific and especially sexual sensibilities has been tried before. In fact, it’s the reason Niebuhr said that brilliant line that I quoted earlier.

He watched as the redefining “Jesus Project” gave us mainline Protestantism, which promotes virtually everything on Evans’ list for millennials. The acceptance of homosexuality, a passion for the environment, prioritizing so-called “social justice” over transformational truth are all embodied in denominations like the United Methodist Church, the Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church (USA).

But religious millennials aren’t flocking to mainline Protestant congregations. Mainline churches as a whole have suffered withering declines in the last few decades—especially among the young. What gives?

Well, in an another essay which appeared in First Things over twenty years ago, a trio of Christian researchers offered their theory on what’s behind the long, slow hemorrhage of mainline Protestant churches:

“In our study,” they wrote, “the single best predictor of church participation turned out Newsletter_Gen_180x180_B to be belief—orthodox Christian belief, and especially the teaching that a person can be saved only through Jesus Christ.” This, said the researchers, was not (and I add, is still not) a teaching of mainline Protestantism. As a dwindling denomination rejects a hymn which proclaims salvation “in Christ alone,” this research sounds prophetic.

Evans is right that evangelical Christianity is responsible in many ways for the exodus of millennials. But ditching the Church’s unpalatable “old-fashioned” beliefs to become more “relevant” to the young won’t bring them back.

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people in churchOur “progressive” culture avoids any return to the past.  Questions and dialogue about traditions — or beginnings — are not generally welcomed.  This is arrogant… and deadly.

Until we go back to or re-visit things of the past, how will we know what works and what doesn’t?  Why we are where we are?   Until we re-visit our beginnings — either as human beings or as people with a particular worldview or ideology — how will we know who we are, or upon what we stand, or why?  If I see that my culture is in decay, can I really be of help to family, neighbors, or community if I don’t know why I believe what I say I believe or do what I do?  Many of us speak of what is “traditional” (in worship, marriage, morality, etc.), but if we can’t explain it, how can we defend it when someone wants to tamper with it?

For this reason, I am extremely grateful to my pastor.  Some people see him as “too catholic” or “inflexible.”  Some ask, “Why do we have to sing old hymns?”  Or, “Why do we have to use a liturgy?”  Or, “Why do we have to learn creeds or attach ourselves to the doctrine of a bunch of dead Europeans?”  Some wish he would just “lighten up” and “get with the movement of our day.”  Oh, how thankful our little flock should be that our shepherd resists the “movement of our day” in order to teach us why Christian Lutherans believe what they believe and do what they do.

My pastor has been gifted with a pair of worldview glasses that help him contrast God’s Word with the ways of the world.  My congregation is blessed — whether it knows it or not — because our pastor is not afraid to return to the past.

In his book, A Free People’s Suicide,” Oz Guinness writes,

A return can be progressive, not reactionary.  Each movement in its own way best goes forward by first going back.”

What does Guinness mean?  National, church, or even family  renewal happens by going back to its beginnings.  To its reasons for being in the first place.  Martin Luther knew this.  The Puritans knew this.  Thomas Jefferson knew this.  History, writes Guinness, “shows that when it comes to ideas, it is in fact possible to turn back the clock.  Two of the most progressive movements in Western history — the Renaissance and the Reformation — were both the result of a return to the past, though in very different ways and with very different outcomes.”

It is, in fact, a law of physics that things are preserved from destruction when brought back to their first principles.  Guinness calls this innovative thinking “outside the box” because it is “back to basics and not a mindless espousal of the present or a breathless chase after some purported future.”  Guinness states,

The most creative re-makings are always through the most faithful re-discoveries.”

I am a Biblical Christian of the Lutheran bent living in a hurting world.  For the sake of my grandchildren, I need to help re-build, in church or society, by re-discovering things of the past.  There is no embarrassment or intellectual shame in this endeavor.

So, thank you my dear pastor, for taking me back so that I might better move forward.  Thank you for helping me re-make what is good and right and true by re-discovering who I am.  Upon what I stand.  And why.

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What do the Divine Service and sex education have in common?  Nothing.

The Divine Service, with its ordered liturgy and reverence, is not common.  It is not casual.  It is not “do it myself;” rather, it is the Holy God “doing” for me.

Filled by God with His Word and Sacrament, my behavior as a woman of God should not be common.  My choices and behavior should put me at odds with the theories and trends of the world.

What I teach and how I teach it should not be common.  I should, with no apologies, instruct using God’s Word and mentor winsomely in the way of Jesus.  I should resist adapting worldly theories, fooling myself with the nonsense that I can sort “good” from “bad, and attempting to wrap the Word of God around the common.

Sex education is common.  It is worldly.  Tragically, especially for boys and girls, it is accepted by the secular world and many in the church.  Instruction in purity is not common.  It calls me and the people I mentor to be different.  Set apart.  That’s because, as God’s possession and treasures in Christ Jesus, we are different.  What we do flows from our identity as men and women called for holy purpose.

Consider me strange, but I think that Biblical instruction in purity is very much like the Divine Service.  Both are not common.  Both seem strange.  Antiquated.  “Too righteous.”   Both are criticized for being difficult.  Perhaps even “unrealistic.”  But, that’s how it is with things that are not common.  Holy things.  Things of God grow out of different soil.

The Divine Service and instruction in purity both speak to our true identity in Christ.  In Him, we are new creations called to live differently.  Even as new creations we are still sinful males and females who, on this earth, will always be tempted to determine our own worship practice and our own sexual behavior.  Therefore, we are in desperate need of the God who is separated from the common.

Divinely served by God through my pastor on Sunday morning, I am equipped to live different from a secular world the rest of the week.  Failing often during the week, I return again on Sunday to be Divinely served and strengthened.

Instructed in the purity of Biblical manhood and womanhood, boys and girls are equipped to live different from the world and better resist the sinful nature that will surely tempt them throughout all their earthly life.  Failing often, they can return to a life of purity because being different – not common – means being a treasure of Jesus Christ.  His forgiveness for every treasured soul is new every morning.

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Dear friends and fellow people of faith,

Now is not the time for foolishness. 

Please, don’t look at your watch on Sunday morning and complain if Divine Service expands beyond your allotted hour.  Instead, thank God that He is serving you and filling you with Word and Sacrament so that you are energized for your vocations of parenting, teaching, working, learning, building, and neighboring.

Please, put away your pride and curb your sensitivity if your pastor seems to speak directly to you and your particular weakness or sin.  Be grateful that God is using His servant to stir your conscience and lead you away from harm.

Please, don’t close your ears and plant your feet stubbornly if you hear your pastor speak about sins including abortion, homosexuality, living together outside of marriage, so-called gay “marriage,” euthanasia, and so on.  You may feel loyal to a particular political party.  You may believe that the church should stay silent where the government has spoken.  But, a pastor that speaks where God speaks is a pastor who is faithful to his call.  Instead of resisting that pastor or telling him to keep quiet, please pray for him.  Pray that he speak the Truth of Christ with the attitude of Christ.

Please, don’t be distracted by hymns with melodies you don’t like; or vestments that seem too priestly; or the weekly Lord’s Supper that stretches “church” even longer; or an organ that sounds, well, too much like a church organ; or a choir that doesn’t entertain.  Instead, be thankful that you can congregate with fellow believers in a public place of worship.

This, dear friends and fellow people of faith, is no time for foolishness.  Why?  Because we are living in a country that has legalized the killing of children in the womb whose hearts beat as vibrantly as the hearts of their mothers.  (Those 53+ million babies would have invigorated our economy and supported an aging 76 million baby boomers.) 

We are living in a country where three states have legalized euthanasia and six states plus the District of Columbia have legalized so-called same-sex “marriage.”   

We are living in a country where voters – many of them Christian – elected Barak Obama.  Under this president and his administration, freedom of worship (personal faith kept to oneself) has replaced freedom of religion (personal faith shared and practiced in public). 

Under this president, freedom of sexual expression (hetero, homo, bi or trans) is the right above all other rights. 

Under this president, the government partners with Planned Parenthood (the nation’s largest provider of abortions) and we, the taxpayers, fund deceitful cover of rape and under-age prostitution, separation of minors from their parents, and drugs and procedures that place girls and young women at risk physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Under this president, people of faith – people like you and me – are being stripped of their right to conscience; in other words, their right to resist evil and do good.  With “Obamacare,” for example, church bodies are being told that they must obey Caesar rather than God. 

So please, dear friends and people of faith –

This is not the time to foolishly complain about the length of Divine Service, or liturgy, or sermons that make you squirm.  This is the time to thank God that you can still gather in His name and in a public place.  This is the time to grow more familiar with The Word, partake in the Sacrament, and encourage one another to resist evil and mentor a new generation for Christ.

Therefore, do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (Ephesians 5:17).

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Do you have a daughter captivated by the romance of Edward and Bella?  Then you might be interested in an early morning phone call I received a few days ago.  A mother had one question on her mind.  “What do you think about the Twilight series?”  I admitted that I haven’t read the books, but previews of the newly released film have my attention.  “What,” I asked, “concerns you so much that you would call even though we’ve never met?”

With calm reason and logic, she defined Twilight as an example of “deception.”  It’s an attempt to “normalize an aberration,” she noted.  “You’ve pointed out such things in your articles and Titus 2 ministry.”  Twilight, she said, is fantasy — to be sure, but it is also a dangerous mix of the holy and unholy.  I’m frustrated, she confessed because “when I express my concerns to the younger ones in my family, they roll their eyes.” 

Mentoring and warning sons and daughters often receives this kind of response.  Parents may back away from dialogue because they’re described as “unenlightened” or “out of touch.”  This mom, however, was looking for encouragement to press on.  She was well aware of the battle for the hearts and minds of young Christians.   

I’m thankful this mom cared enough to call.  It motivated me to do further research.  I found a discerningly helpful article entitled “The Twilight Series from a Christian Perspective: Part I & II” by Mark Farnham.  Mark is Assistant Professor of Theology and New Testament at Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary in Lansdale, PA.  He and his wife have two teen daughters and a ten-year-old son.  Mark has served as a pastor and director of youth ministries. 

If there is a young woman in your family whose romantic yearnings are teased by Twilight, please take the time to read Mark Farnham’s review.  “The fact that Edward and Bella do not engage in sexual activity seems to be enough to warrant a stamp of approval from  many Christians who defend the series,” writes Mark.  “Some even praise Edward (a vampire) for his considerable restraint in not doing the one thing that is most bodily urgent to him – drinking Bella’s blood.”  But, cautions Mark, “What a work of culture promotes as normal and desirable – or abnormal and undesirable – is the crux of the matter.”  Twilight “drips with sensuality,” writes Mark.  “This aspect of the series should be a major stumbling block for a Christian reader who is attuned to biblical portrayals of holiness and purity.”  (Visit SharperIron to read more.)

Parents, what is Twilight promoting?  What is it compromising?  Might it change a young person’s attitude toward God?  “For Bella,” writes Mark, “God is unnecessary.  Only Edward is necessary.  In her mind, God is only an acceptable thought if He (in whatever form He exists) accepts Edward.  The roles are switched — Edward is supreme and necessary; God is subordinate and contingent.” 

It is spiritually risky business when we fear, love, and trust our self-determined happiness before God.

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Liberal thinkers like to call themselves “progressive.”  They have “evolved” to a higher and more enlightened view and practice of life.  Is this true?

Between the years of 1904 and 1909, archaeological excavations at Gezer (once known as the Canaanite region) revealed the ruins of a temple.  This temple, or “high place” was built to worship Ashtoreth, the “wife” of the idol named Baal.  Great numbers of jars were discovered under the debris of the temple.  These jars contained the remains of children who had been sacrificed to Baal and Ashtoreth.  The whole area (an enclosure 150 feet by 120 feet) proved to be a cemetery for babies.

“Foundation sacrifices” were performed by Israelites who had adapted the ways of the people around them.  When a house was to be built, a child would be sacrificed and his or her body “built” into the wall with the belief that “good luck” would come to the rest of the family.  Many tiny bodies were dug up in Gezer, Megiddo, Jericho, and other sites.

How could a mother lay her child in the arms of Baal, a stone-cold idol who stood above a flaming fire?  How could the father permit it?  Infant sacrifice was practiced by parents seeking a change of circumstances.  A better life.  Prosperity.

Are we more civilized today?  Are we truly more “progressive?”  We have sacrificed 53,310,822 preborn babies in the United States since 1973.  Biology and ultrasound technology remind us that the abortionist is not removing “globs of tissue” but sons and daughters.  These children are sacrificed, not at the temple of Ashtoreth or Baal, but at the temple of Self.

Approximately 95 percent of abortions in the U.S. are not for rape, incest, or the life of the mother, but for convenience.  Mothers and fathers in Canaan sacrificed their children to idols for personal gain or out of fear.  Today’s practice of abortion is really no different.  Mothers and fathers lay their babies in the arms of stone gods named “my choice.”  “My convenience.”  “My best interest.”  One life is sacrificed for another.  “If I have an abortion, I will regain control of my life.”  “If I have this abortion, my future won’t be at risk.”  “Having this abortion is the sacrifice I must make for myself.”

But, God demands no such sacrifice.  He has already paid the ultimate and only necessary sacrifice for a future of hope.  God does not require mothers and fathers to sacrifice their children so that others might live well or fear less.  God made the sacrifice for us.  The Cross of Jesus Christ is the reminder of amazing grace on pitifully desperate people.  The Cross tells us that no one else — not even a “fetus” (Latin: young one) — needs to be sacrificed.

No peace for the soul was found in the temple of Ashtoreth.  No hope for the future was found in the temple of Baal.  Peace and hope elude the mother or  father who bend at the temple of Self.  “The sorrows of those will increase who run after other gods” (Psalm 16:4 NIV).  Ashtoreth. Baal.   Self.  All seek to deceive, then forsake.

But, those who trust in the God who calls each child by name will not be deceived.  God’s Word opens eyes and changes hearts and minds.  When fear presses down and momentary evil seems justifiable, God’s Word convicts… then comforts.  God does not forsake those who cry out to Him. He may not answer in the way we want or expect, but He promises His faithfulness in all circumstances.  Apart from God, there is no good thing.

With God, goodness and mercy rise up.  Push back against evil.  Overcome.  When wrong choices of the past made in fear and desperation are confessed and taken to the Cross, they are forgiven. Forgotten.  Covered by Jesus’ robe of righteousness.

I sought the Lord, and He answered me; He delivered me from all my fears.  Those who look to Him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed . . . The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him, and delivers them (Psalm 34:4-5, 7 ESV).

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The woman carries a burden.  It is the guilt and grief of an abortion.

The deceiver of her soul never leaves her alone.  “Can God ever forgive you?”   “Choice” is building a wall between her and God.  Wouldn’t it be easier to sleep in on Sunday mornings?

Her conscience is stirred.  She remembers that, as a little girl, she attended worship with her parents.  She didn’t really understand the service.  The hymns seemed old and the pews hard.  But, there was a sense of order and peace.  Even her little girl heart identified with that.

So, one Sunday morning, the woman returned to the place of her childhood.  The place of order and peace.  Perhaps her burden made her more sensitive, but something had changed.  Instead of quiet reverence, there was noise and distraction. 

She intentionally chose the more contemporary service.  Even so, there was humility in her manner because she believed she was entering the House of the Lord.   The flurry of activity startled her.  Posters, banners, blinking lights, a latte station, people handing out brochures, and a praise band overpowered her senses.  Making her way to a back pew, she bowed her head.  She wanted to sort out her thoughts.  To pray.  But, all around her people in conversation competed with the vocalists and band.  Her mind wandered away from her prayer.

The woman remembered holding her hymnal when she was a girl.  But, now all the words were on a power point screen.  She couldn’t page through the Psalms or read God’s Word in the hymns.   She couldn’t turn to the page of confession and absolution.  The service moved so quickly.  Along with the others, she was praising her Lord, but what was He doing for her?

The pastor was dynamic.  Charismatic.  He looked almost like everyone else in the room.  She couldn’t help but wonder: How would he receive her?  He spoke about Jesus and mercy and grace, but did she miss the part about why she needed such mercy and grace?

She approached the Lord’s Table with hunger, but was not allowed to kneel, pause before the Cross, and ponder on what she was receiving.   The line of people moved quickly by the pastors and several elders.  She noticed some people looking at their watches.  Perhaps it was her imagination, but the band seemed louder.  Still, it didn’t drown out her pounding heart.  The anxiety.  What am I doing, she asked herself.  Why am I here?

Back in her pew, she again bowed her head.  But, there was no silence.  The praising continued.  The congregation was singing about a great God, a loving God.  But, where was He?  All of the people around her were doing something for Him, but what was He doing for them?  For her?

She had come to His sanctuary, but felt herself in an auditorium.  Sight and sound teased her emotions, but she always felt that way after a trip to the mall, too.

She had come to leave her burden before the Throne of Grace, be received as His daughter, and be equipped for her daily battle with the deceiver of her soul.  But, everyone was so busy taking their hour to praise the Lord.  Perhaps the Lord was receiving her as His daughter, but her head was turned away.  Her eyes were focused elsewhere.

She left with her burden in tow.  She hadn’t really felt like praising God, but wanted Him do something for her.  She wondered, did He give to her and all the others what they needed to engage in daily spiritual warfare?  Or, had they given Him some of their time before scurrying back to real life?

Does this woman sit in your midst?  Does your congregation’s choice of worship direct such a woman to the Cross, or distract her away?  Is she allowed to “be still and know that I am God,” or is she overwhelmed by the choreography of human hand?

Just pondering on the journey…

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