Archive for the ‘Worship’ Category

1 cor. 9.22.001Recently I posted about purchasing a couple of tickets to a baseball game for my wife and me to attend. Our local AAA baseball team had partnered with a semiprofessional football in our area for a one-night promotional event through which the Bayou Lacombe Cardinals football team would receive a portion of the proceeds. I also happen to work with the team as their public address announcer.

I had no idea that my post — meant to urge others to purchase tickets to support the football team — would be controversial. Because I am also a pastor, my association with the team was questioned, and I offered an immediate straightforward answer: “I’m building relationships with people who need the gospel.” Somehow this led to a charge that my “popularity” has to do with my willingness to please people and to conform to their ways. The charge continued to what must have been the aim of the original question, which was to disparage the use of contemporary music in churches.

Okay, I’ll admit it. I enjoy contemporary music. But I also enjoy the sacred hymns. However, I also enjoy many other styles of music. When asked “What kind of music do I want the church to use?” I always respond, “Music that honors God and that is done well and that relates to the people. I define “done well” as that which is presented as the best the particular congregation, singers, or instrumentalists can offer because we ought always offer our best when it comes to worshiping the Lord.”

Throughout my ministry I have pursued a variety of interests in order to connect with people in the community. The goal has always been the same — to build relationships with people who need the gospel. The apostle Paul modeled this (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:19-23). Paul clearly stated his purpose for conforming to the customs and opinions of men by stating “I have become all things to all people, so that I may by every possible means save some” (1 Cor. 9:22). What mattered to Paul was not him, his rights, or his preferences, but the gospel. The gospel consumed his life.

The controversy surrounding “contemporary music” hardly smacks of something new. In 1873 (that’s more than 150 years ago!), something new came on the scene when the great preacher D.L. Moody’s singing associate, Ira D. Sankey, introduced what became known as the “singing of the gospel.” Sankey’s style completely revolutionized the music of the church.

Before Sankey, a cappella singing of the psalms and hymns and spiritual songs had always been an important part of worship services. However, Sankey introduced a style of popular hymn calculated to awaken the careless, to melt the hardened, and to guide the inquiring souls to the Lord Jesus Christ. Often when the Moody-Sankey team came to town for an evangelistic campaign, the people would come out of curiosity to see and hear Sankey sing. Pedaling his small cabinet organ, he would sing out in his rich, melodious voice, and completely captivate his audience. During this time many church members thought that the use of an organ or any kind of musical instrument to accompany the voices of singers was wicked and worldly. Strict church people, accustomed only to the unaccompanied old psalm-singing type of church music called Sankey’s songs “human hymns.” It took tact on the part of Sankey to break down the prejudice against organ music. He helped transition the practice and the result was a wave of well-composed and great theologically sound hymns which are still sung in churches today.

I believe that each generation needs its Ira Sankeys who can tactfully make the theology of Scripture speak to the people. People often say that the older hymns have such theological value and that we should be teaching their value and not have them lost. If by teaching the value of hymns, you mean that we should sing songs that have robust theological meaning, I wholeheartedly agree. If you mean that we need to teach a particular style of music, that’s actually missing the point. People are converted to Christ through the gospel not through a style of music.

What matters is the theological truth that comes from Scripture. Words are what matters — not the melodies or tunes or even the instruments. We should sing truth. We can sing truth with new songs and new instruments, and we can sing truth with old songs and new instruments and new arrangements.

It comes down to getting the saving message of the gospel to people. I cannot win everyone, but I’m willing to do whatever is biblically permissible to win some. And I’m willing to rub elbows with anyone if it means that I might have the opportunity to speak the gospel.

 

 

 

 

Little Church

After serving as a pastor of a local church for thirty-five years and now having stepped down from the pastorate of my last church, my wife and I have experienced  a different perspective about the local church. Most people choose a church based on the quality of the services or the power in the pulpit or the size of the membership.

After we resigned, we sought the Lord’s guidance for a church to call our “home church.” This was a new and awkward experience for us because the last four churches we called our church came automatically to us as we accepted the call to be the pastor. The awkwardness continued as the Lord gave us several opportunities to preach for churches for the first several weeks. The church we joined has welcomed us and loved us. The pastor and his wife, the deacons, and members reached out to us when we needed it. They have prayed for us and and have encouraged us. We found that the most important ingredient to finding the right church was not really the dynamism of the leaders but the devotion of the people. The church the Lord led us to join is what most people would call a “small church.” But we think this church has a big heart.

Last week Gayla and I attended the midweek service at one of the churches where I have preached a couple of times recently. We needed to meet with one of the members there about a property transaction with our local Baptist association. We arrived just as the service was beginning. (We had underestimated the amount of time it would take to get to this little country church.) We joined a small group of attenders — my wife and I increased their attendance to a dozen souls. Since we had been with these people before, they stopped and greeted us before they continued with the lesson.

Since we had planned to go home afterwards to eat a light supper, we were a bit hungry. My hunger only increased as the aroma of a wonderful meal that I supposed had been enjoyed before the service began. However to my surprise when the service ended, there was an immediate insistence, “You both will be staying for supper!”

While not wanting to be a burden on the small gathering, we succumbed to their urging. And we were glad we did. Not that the meal was anything special, the fellowship around the table with believers we barely knew was especially sweet. There’s just something about communing the body of Christ.

If you’re not a member of a local body of believers, you’re missing out on a big blessing. And don’t judge the size of your blessing on the size of the congregation. God becomes so real when He comes from the hearts of His people.

After returning home from a long tour, Bono, the lead singer for U2, returned to Dublin and attended a Christmas Eve service. At some point in that service, Bono grasped the truth at the heart of the Christmas story: in Jesus, God became a human being. With tears streaming down his face, Bono realized,Bono_board_photo-360x360

“The idea that God, if there is a force of Love and Logic in the universe, that it would seek to explain itself is amazing enough. That it would seek to explain itself by becoming a child born in poverty…and straw, a child, I just thought, ‘Wow!’ Just the poetry…I saw the genius of picking a particular point in time and deciding to turn on this…Love needs to find a form, intimacy needs to be whispered…Love has to become an action or something concrete. It would have to happen. There must be an incarnation. Love must be made flesh.” *

The prophecy of the promised Messiah of Luke’s first chapter finds its fulfillment in the second chapter. Three key words — providence, promise, and praise — offer markers for us in Luke 2:1-20.

In the providence of God’s design, God chose for His Son to become flesh during the reign of Caesar Augustus. Luke wanted his readers to note the census, since he mentioned it four times. The census happened at just the right time and in the right way. Providence is God’s guidance and care in your life. He is continually involved in your life, just as He was involved in the exactness of the details of the birth of Messiah. We should note that Messiah came according to God’s timing. “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5). We should also note that He was born exactly where God had said the Messiah would be born — Bethlehem. And when it came time for the baby to be born, He came God’s way and was wrapped in swaddling clothes and was laid in the “feeding trough” of an animal. God’s way was for His Son’s humble life on earth to begin in this way.

God is at work in your life and has every moment planned for you. You can trust that His ways are always better than your ways.

An angel made an unbelievable appearance to some shepherds. In the eyes of many, an angel would never appear to a shepherd. Shepherds would seldom be found praising and worshiping God. I find it ironic that those who kept flocks of sheep (keep in mind that some of these sheep may have been destined for the altar as sacrifices for worship) would have been considered unclean and therefore unworthy to worship God.

The angel delivered to the shepherds God’s promise. “Don’t be afraid! I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for ALL people.” Jesus came for all people. Jesus came to be our Savior. He will deliver you from your sin. He is the anointed One — the Messiah. He is the Lord, the supreme authority over all.

A large number of angels — too many to count — gathered in the nighttime sky to declare with Gabriel praise to God. And when the angels departed, the shepherds discussed what they had just heard and determined that they had to go at once to Bethlehem. They wanted to see for themselves what the angels had declared to them. They found Jesus, just as the angel said they would, lying in a feeding trough with Mary and Joseph nearby.

As they left to return to their flocks, they shared the report the angel had told them about the baby. They essentially took the place of the angels as they humbly returned to their duties. Telling others about the Savior is a solemn obligation as well as a great privilege, and we who are believers must be faithful.

* Quoted in Matt Woodley, The Gospel of Matthew: God With Us (InterVarsity Press, 2011), p. 28-29

be-stillLast Sunday afternoon Gayla and I traveled to Istrouma Baptist Church in Baton Rouge for the Louisiana Baptist Convention Pastors Conference. I’ve learned a great deal over the past several months about the sovereignly of God — particularly His sovereignty with regards to His timing. However, He would teach us more at this conference. The theme, “Pause,” is what we are experiencing right now — a pause in our ministry. Sunday marked the final time that I would preach as the pastor of Mandeville’s First Baptist Church. With no “next assignment” in sight, we find ourselves in a pause in our ministry.

From Sunday evening to the close of the conference on Monday afternoon, we heard seven different speakers and five of them chose to speak from Psalm 46. That psalm is one of my favorites and includes one of the most quoted verses of the psalms — “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

Martin Luther used this psalm as the scriptural basis of his “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” Coincidentally, we just observed the 500th anniversary of the day when Luther nailed his ninety-five theses to the door of the church at Wittenberg, Germany. The historical background of the psalm was God’s deliverance of Jerusalem from the Assyrians during the reign of King Hezekiah, who may have been the poet who the Spirit used to form this psalm and perhaps Psalms 47 and 48 as well.

The psalm has three stanzas, each marked off by the term “Selah,” a term that may mean a musical interlude. The interlude would give the worshipers the opportunity to reflect on the stanza that they had just heard or sung. Instructions in the text prior to verse one give instructions to the worship leader. Clearly, the Lord intended this psalm to be used as a hymn of worship.

Given that we heard this psalm used repeatedly as a sermon text at the pastors conference, I believe that the Lord wanted us to pause for a while so that we could hear from His Word that we could trust in what He had planned for us. He wanted us to know that we could trust Him. The three stanzas of Psalm 46 help the reader focus on the Lord and how He relates to His trusting people.

God is our refuge and tower of strength. God is that place of refuge or the fortress to whom we may go. When everything seems to be falling apart, He shelters us so that He can strengthen us to go back to life with its responsibilities, challenges, and even dangers. That the psalm writer said that He would be near “in times of trouble” describes God as He would be with us in the tight places of life. He is saying to us, “Don’t be afraid.” We need that kind of comforting word in the Christian life.

God is our river of joy. When the Assyrian army laid siege to Jerusalem, their water supply would normally have been threatened. However, Hezekiah had built an underground water system that connected the Spring of Gihon in the Kidron Valley with the Pool Siloam within the city walls, thus making water available. But the psalmist knew that the true source of the river of life was God. We need to know that our source of life is God and not our wise planning.

God is our God, and He will be glorified.  It’s not until verse 8 that the psalmist gave a command for his readers to heed, “Come, see the works of the LORD.” But this is not a command to do something. Rather, it is a command to watch God. What does He do? According to the psalm, He makes the wars cease by destroying the weapons of war. When you come to verse 10, there’s a new speaker. God says, “Stop your fighting, and know that I am God.” The Christian Standard Bible captures the nuance of the word that is often translated as “be still.” The command to be still is not simply a command to be quiet or to get alone. No, it’s a command to stop trying to fix things in your life yourself. It’s a command to stop depending on our your strength or your ingenuity and start depending on the Lord.

This morning when we came into the church where the Lord had assigned us to preach, Gayla pointed out a small plaque hanging above the baptistry at the front of the auditorium. It said, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

The Lord has my attention during this pause in my ministry. I waiting for the Lord.