What’s So Great About The Old Hymns?

traditionalworship“Let everything that breathes praise the Lord (Psalm 150: 6)!”

It is no accident that this Psalm is the final song of the book of Psalms. The purpose of the Psalms is to teach God’s people to sing and pray and worship God in the Temple, the Church, and in daily life with whatever instruments they have!

This Sunday marks the start of our new Traditional Worship Experience at Lakeside at 8:30 in the morning! I’m so excited! One of things I am excited about is getting to sing the old hymns I grew up with. Whether you like contemporary worship songs or traditional hymns or both, whether you are young or old, rich or poor, black or white or yellow or brown, the Psalmist shouts at everything with breath to “praise the Lord!”

So what’s so great about the old hymns?

1. Many of them used to be bar tunes sung with friends, neighbors, and family in the local pubs of England. Charles Wesley, in an effort to encourage more people to sing praise to God, wrote poems of faith in Christ to go with familiar tunes.
2. They communicate a rich understanding of Christian life. Pay attention to the words of these songs and you will find words that encourage, challenge, and inspire us to live with and for Jesus Christ today!
3. They are familiar. Many Christians, like me, have sung these since they were children. So the words and the tunes hold a deep connection to our personal stories of faith.
4. They are easy to learn. Don’t worry if you’ve never heard them! The tunes repeat each stanza. So, if you don’t get the tune right at first, by the second or third stanza, you will catch onto the tune and can join right in!

So come one, come all! Let’s “Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty firmament! Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his surpassing greatness (Psalm 150: 1-2)!”

About That Crowded Schedule…Practice Daily Bread

Wow!  It’s October and life is flying faster than ever!  It seems that we are blessed with so many good opportunities that we are gorging on them!  Lord, give us strength of character to remember that, just as You commanded the Israelites only to gather what manna they needed for each day and not to fearfully store more, You, Jesus, teach us to pray for and trust You for daily bread, no more and no less!

The more we try to pack into a day than is necessary to live well, the more good things start to smell and taste spoiled.  Have you ever had so many great things planned that you rushed through them all, feeling like you couldn’t wait until they were all done?  Quality of life does suffer under the pressurized obsessions for unmet needs to be fulfilled and under crushing cravings for more than is needed.  Both seem driven by fears that there won’t be enough in the future, that there isn’t enough now, and that there is no God with enough power and love to provide what He knows we need.

Daily acknowledgment of our dependence on God is not only an act of faith, it also sets us right mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.  Trusting God to provide what is needed for God’s will to be done in our lives today sets us free from the fears and obsessions that ruin our appreciation of God’s blessings and sets us free to gather up the good gifts of God that we need!

We plan six months, a year, ten years, even to the day we die, sometimes missing the presence and gifts of God right now.  We try to pack more into each day, afraid we’ll miss some opportunity, afraid that we will sideline our future, or vainly afraid we will lose pace with our neighbors.  Dear God, help us to learn the lessons of daily bread!  By frantically gathering more than we need today, what we gather begins to rot.  Worse yet, we grow further from God, the source of all good life!

Give us the grace to gather Your daily gifts and let that be enough.  Give us the grace to trust You to know what we need and to love us enough to provide it.  Help us die to our fears so that we may find eternal life in You, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!

The World Needs A Savior

Approximately 2 million children are homeless and hungry today, refugees from their Syrian country which is embroiled in civil war.  Radical religious militants are mercilessly murdering people who don’t share their faith in a shopping mall in Kenya, violently bitter over political history.  Here, in the relative peace of the U.S., mass shootings with battle-grade arms continue.  Mental illness and poisoned political and religious minds are now fully armed for war on the innocent.

Ironically, now more than ever in the history of the United States, people are growing blind to humanity’s need for a Savior.  Can the belief in salvation by technological innovation be held in the face of the violence we us it for?  Technology itself is neutral until grasped by the hands of diseased minds bent on destruction.  The real issues of good and evil reside in the human heart where the corrosive effects of sin dissolve good into red, powdery flakes.  Can faith in the ability of humankind to “do better” or to “save ourselves” withstand the giant waves of evidence our current and historical realities slam against it?

Jesus, You came plugging the bleeding holes of a nameless woman, touching the untouchable, casting out the demons, correcting the faithfully wrong, and crossing geographic, religious, cultural lines to spread the new life of Your Kingdom (Luke 8)!  Give us the strength of Your Spirit in the people of Lakeside Fellowship and in all who follow you across the globe to heal, feed, push out demons, reorder the disordered, make peace, forgive, and proclaim Your Kingdom through cross and empty tomb.  We need a Savior!  The world needs a Savior, and only You, who love Your creation enough to enter its pain, self-destruction, and death and who have the power to transform it into new life by way of resurrection, are up to the task!  Only a people resembling “little Christs” in words and deeds can remind the world that all hope is not lost!

Come, Lord Jesus!

Your Worship Stinks

11“The multitude of your sacrifices—

what are they to me?” says the Lord.
“I have more than enough of burnt offerings,
of rams and the fat of fattened animals;
I have no pleasure
in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.
12When you come to appear before me,
who has asked this of you,
this trampling of my courts?
13Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—
I cannot bear your worthless assemblies.
14Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals
I hate with all my being.
They have become a burden to me;
I am weary of bearing them.
15When you spread out your hands in prayer,
I hide my eyes from you;
even when you offer many prayers,
I am not listening.
Your hands are full of blood!
16Wash and make yourselves clean.
Take your evil deeds out of my sight;
stop doing wrong.
17Learn to do right; seek justice.
Defend the oppressed.#

1:17Or justice. / Correct the oppressor
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
plead the case of the widow.

Isaiah 1

2Hear me, you heavens! Listen, earth!

For the Lord has spoken:
“I reared children and brought them up,

but they have rebelled against me.

 

I was on a spinning bike at the Y, minding my own business at 5:45am when Isaiah hit me square in the face,”Your worship stinks!”  Actually, I was thinking that Sunday’s worship went pretty well.  The music was excellent.  I even thought I did alright with the sermon, and the experience of God’s grace being poured out on all us sinners at the Lord’s Table was awesome!  One other highlight was the sending of our adult and youth mission team to rural Appalachia for a 10 day mission trip.  So what beef did Isaiah have with our worship this morning?

I don’t think Isaiah’s words really fit my congregation’s worship Sunday, but I do think that American Christians, including my congregation, need to be smacked by God’s words through Isaiah once in a while.  We need to be shocked out of the worship slumber we sometimes slip into, thinking worship is yet another hour of others performing something that is entertaining, makes us feel good, and lets us sit as spectators.  Through Isaiah, God was judging the degradation of his people’s worship, and through Isaiah today God is still judging his people’s worship.

“Stop bringing meaningless offerings!  Your incense is detestable to me.  New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations-I cannot bear your worthless assemblies.  Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals I hate with all my being.  They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them.  When you spread out your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening.  Your hands are full of blood!  Wash and make yourselves clean.  Take evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong.  Learn to do right; seek justice.  Defend the oppressed.  Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow (Isaiah 1: 13-17).”

It seems that God’s people continued their regular worship gatherings, bringing offerings, celebrating the seasonal worship times, but they were neglecting to care for those in need in their community.  If there is one thing that is very clear in Scripture, it is that God is keenly interested in seeing that the weak, poor, and lonely are cared for.  Maybe the band was really great and the sermon a feast to the ears and mind and the prayers so tastefully done, yet the rich and those in power, including the religious leaders, seemed so pleased with themselves that they were forgetting, no, neglecting the poor.  Isaiah might as well have interpreted God as telling his people, “I don’t give a damn about your worship!”

This weekend I participated in a community outreach day with a different congregation here in Lake Mary with about 150 other people who went to 8-10 different projects in the community. Some did yardwork at a home that helps put children’s lives back together when they are broken; some helped at a local food bank; some helped  at a local school.  And, just like when our mission team enters the poverty of rural Appalachia this week, worship became action.  The love of God got reattached to the love of people, the way it was intended to be.  I am convinced that the worship that fills God with joy is both what we sing in our songs as well as what we do with our hands to help those in need; it is both what we read and hear in Scripture and how we love in our homes, neighborhoods, and places of work; it is both our reception of God’s life-changing grace on Sundays and our offering of God’s life-changing grace to others every other day of the week.

Thanks for the punch in the face Isaiah!  May God be pleased with the worship of our hearts and our lives!

Worship, The Center

II Kings 111

1 When Athaliah the mother of Ahaziah saw that her son was dead, she proceeded to destroy the whole royal family…5Jehoiada the priest ordered the commanders of units of a hundred, who were in charge of the troops: “Bring her out between the ranks and put to the sword anyone who follows her.” For the priest had said, “She must not be put to death in the temple of the Lord.” 16So they seized her as she reached the place where the horses enter the palace grounds, and there she was put to death.17Jehoiada then made a covenant between the Lord and the king and people that they would be the Lord’s people. He also made a covenant between the king and the people. 18All the people of the land went to the temple of Baal and tore it down. They smashed the altars and idols to pieces and killed Mattan the priest of Baal in front of the altars. Then Jehoiada the priest posted guards at the temple of the Lord.

Many of the people involved in the first church I ever served operated under the assumption that attending worship weekly was one of their top priorities.  If they were in town, they would be there on Sunday mornings.  Even if they had just come home from the hospital a day or two before, they would be there, singing the songs and listening to the sermons.  Presumably they understood the essential nature of this activity we call worship.  They did not percieve this time focusing attention on God’s presence and on the great story of salvation as “one more option” on the buffet line of life’s activities.  Week after week, hour after hour, they showed by their action, by their planning, by their dedication that the worship of God was at the center of their lives.

Truly, I knew many of these faithful attenders quite well, and I will be the first to fess up to the fact that translating the good news of lives made whole in Jesus Christ into Monday at a contentious business meeting, Tuesday during chemotherapy, Friday during a fight with a spouse, or into the few moments during the walk to the car after church let out was sometimes a challenge!  Maybe those moments were what kept them coming back; maybe that’s when they knew that their only hope was the grace of God that they could celebrate on Sundays.

Now the new definition of “faithful attender” to worship seems to be once a month.  People are much more mobile.  Our lives are no longer centered around the town square.  Our lives have multiple centers like our offices, fields where our kids play ball, our shopping and entertainment areas, and, yes, sometimes, our places of worship.

What struck me today about reading 2 Kings 11 was one of the “big picture” points that the writer of Kings makes:  “Worship is always at the center of what is right or wrong with life!”  When the Kings of Judah and Israel center the lives of their communities on the worship of Yahweh, the one true living God, things go well with them.  When the Kings begin worshipping themselves in their hunger for power and success or they go worshipping other gods that appeal to them more, bad things happen!  There are power struggles in the Kingdom, assassinations, losses in battle, death, hunger, broken relationships, etc.  The point seems to be “when worship goes wrong, everything goes wrong.”

This is a great lesson for our “come when I feel like it” Christians in 21st century America.  Have we lost our respect for the God of the universe who has given himself for our salvation?  In our state of constant distraction have we forgotten how to be committed to the most important relationship of our lives from now to eternity, our relationship with God?  And deep down inside, don’t we long for a center to our lives that grounds us, clarifies our perspective, and directs us spend the lives we are given on the most important things?  We long for God to be the center, yet we struggle to toss the anchor to God in worship.

Worship is not “one more thing” on our list of things to do.  It is “The” thing that makes everything else make sense.  In response to the woman at the well who asked, “Where do you get that living water?,” Jesus replied, “…those who drink of the water I will give them will never be thirsty again.  The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”  Drink deeply in worship, everyone, and be full!

Ask Him For A Drink

John 4: 7-21

 

7When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?”8(His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)

9The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.#

Or do not use dishes Samaritans have used) 10Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” 11“Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?” 13Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again,14but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 15The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” 16He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”

17“I have no husband,” she replied. Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband.18The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.” 19“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.

 Comments

It always surprises me to read this story of Jesus approaching and talking with the Samaritan woman because he breaks social conventions.  He takes a great social risk.  He clearly knew what he was doing, for John tells us that he waited until his disciples left before he made his move to talk with her.  Apparently, Jesus didn’t want to deal with the resistance he knew his disciples would give him about talking to a Samaritan, let alone a Samaritan woman!

To Jesus, however, is clear that the Kingdom of God has no man-made boundaries to contain it.  There are no “unworthy” social groups or races, no terrible sinners that are out of reach of God’s saving grace, no second class gender in the Kingdom of God.  Operating out his desire to spread the Kingdom of God to anyone who is willing to follow him and enter, Jesus approaches the woman, the Samaritan woman to bring the Kingdom to the personal level of her life.  This is no classroom theological lesson, no book discussion, no trip into philosophy; this is a deeply personal invitation from Jesus to the woman to drink in the eternal quality of life she needs.

It makes me squirm a little at how quickly Jesus gets into this woman’s business.  He baits her into speaking of the state of her personal relationships, of which she has had many that have failed.  Then he guides her to come clean that she is living with a man, which probably included sleeping with him, that she is not married to.  Though she never admits it, Jesus sees inside of her life and sees the desert of sin she is living in.  Her relationships leave her parched.  She must crave real love, but has no idea how to get it.  Ahhh, now we see the brilliance of Jesus!  All along he intended to offer a drink from the spring of his love that will change her life, give her a taste of living water that, as she continues to drink it, will bring her to eternal life!

All of this leads us to a very personal question:  Where are the dry deserts of our lives?  Are our relationships with our work, our spouses, our children, our attachment to things or habits, or our inner attitudes and thoughts dry, cracked places longing for the spring of Jesus’ love and grace to pour new life into us?   “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”  Let’s ask him for a drink!