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Posts Tagged ‘worship’

I am going to go to church today to worship, learn, and fellowship.  Not at all interested in drama (meaning human disputes).  I pray for the Lord’s church and His people.  May we all wake fresh and new today in fellowship with Him.  I think I’d prefer to fellowship than to focus, wouldn’t you?

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I saw this as a search that landed someone on my blog.  I do think that is an excellent question.  I believe it’s there are many reasons why church is so hard.

First, sin.  Obviously, people are sinners, I am a sinner, you are a sinner, and so we’re going to be hard to deal with.  The church is going to be imperfect.  People get their agendas and their behaviors, and it is hard to deal with them.  I am hard to deal with.  Do you know how many stupid thoughts I have while sitting in church?  How many times I look at someone and think things about what they are wearing or how they talk?  I have to constantly check myself.

Church is also hard because people are confused as to why we have church.  Though I believe it’s clear we are there to worship God and edify the body, everyone has expectations beyond this.  Some of our hopes are that we’ll get all our needs met in church.  Then we sit there and don’t express those needs to anyone, and exactly how can that happen?  We have expectations for people to be our friends.  We have expectations that we’ll feel a certain way at Christmas or on any given Sunday.  We have expectations that the pastor will do someone this way or that.  We forget our fallibility and don’t always understand what’s being taught.  There are basics churches should have, some do and some don’t, and when our expectations are not reached, we can be disappointed. 

Some churches are bad, period.  This is not just your ordinary sin of each human here, it’s churches that are unhealthy and destructive.  I used tbe an RA on campus in a dorm, and we had to watch for groups that came in with cult like tendencies.  They would manipulate and shut a person off from their families.  Girls were breaking up with long time boyfriends because the boyfriend didn’t join.  They were being drilled and harrassed by the cult members, never alone.  It’s not just obvious cults though, there is abuse in church, there is twisting of scripture, power struggle, control, pastors who cheat on their wives within their congregation, and many other things that happen to erode trust.  Evil is everywhere and will find it’s way right into the church, right into pulpits. 

Waiting, it’s hard waiting.  Those of us in God’s family are still waiting for the return of Christ.  This isn’t always easy.  Sure, we have been given the bible and are told how to live.  We can love our Lord and worship Him, and we can at times feel near because of the Holy Spirit.  However, we are not physically with Jesus.  We don’t see Him with our eyes.  We have to wait.   We meet together every Sunday, and each Sunday it’s another week we have to wait.  We get accustomed to this life, and sometimes even forget we’re not made only for this life.  We get immeshed in the struggles here, and the waiting and hope is on the back burner.  It can be a faith stretcher to wait.  We can become complacent. 

Persecution, that can make church very hard.  I am in the United States, so I don’t have the real persecution of my brothers and sisters around the world.  We have a shiny building, we have cars to get us there.  We have bibles, many of us have more bibles than people in our homes.  We are free to preach from the bible as it is written here (so far).  Sure, we may get teased by media or others who don’t believe, but real persecution?  We actually have to TRY to get persecuted by protesting an abortion clinic or by doing door to door missions or maybe setting up a Christmas display in public somewhere.  However, in some countries, to be a part of a church means death.  It means abuse.  It means the government and your neighbors are watching you.  It means services can be raided and you can go to jail.  It means if you are teaching the bible as written, you can be punished for a long time. 

Yes, my friends, church is hard.  But, I’d rather have the church than try hanging alone in the world.  Why?  Because I really believe in Christ, and so do others who are in the churches I’ve attended.  We are family.  We belong together.  We have to deal with sin, and we have to work on making it better together.  If it’s right, the preaching is good, the fellowship is good, the church can be a wonderful place.  If I am willing to reach out, if I am there to worship, there to join my fellow Christians, it can be very good.

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But the Music…

I have heard the chief complaint of the reformed style (I think anyway) Baptist church we attend is the music, from those who have tried it instead of our former seeker friendly “not emergent but not NOT emergent” church.  What exaclty is the problem here? 

In our new church we sing great hymns, some I have never heard before.  It’s simple, at the start of the service there is a small set of music.  There is a young man who leads the music time, and he plays a guitar.  There is a young woman who plays piano.  We do not have hymn books, which I miss and want, but I understand since there is a deaf population in our church and using an overhead style can help them sign to the words.  There is no drum, the music is not loud or driving.  People who can sing well are of a more chorale style.  The rest of us just do our best.

I know the first few Sundays I felt a bit off singing.  It felt a bit faster than the former church.  Nothing is really repeated, but hymns are sung the whole way through, with all verses.  It is meaty, and often difficult to sing along with when you’re not used to it.  However, in singing this way week after week, I have begun to really pay attention to the poetry and the words.  The music is of higher caliber and the lyrics are intelligent.  No repetition of “open the eyes of my heart Lord (what does this mean anyway?)  I want to see you…I want to see you…I want to see you…(slower now) I…..want…to…see eeeee youuuuuuuu.” 

We don’t dance, though I do move because well, I move when I sing.  We don’t clap.  There’s nothing wrong with clapping, I like it.  We just don’t do this in our newer church.  I don’t think I’ve seen hands raised either.  I don’t ever do this myself, but no songs call us to kneel or raise hands….there’s no suggestions like that in the music.  It’s all about God and not our response to him. 

I personally really enjoy the hymns.  I also hear my children singing them at home.  It’s deeper in meaning, actually more theologically correct.  The music challenges the mind and is for worship.  It’s not about entertaining and whipping us into an emotional frenzy.  I like not being manipulated. 

I’m not saying having a drum set or playing music in a contemporary style is wrong, I do not believe this.  I do think though that many churches are missing discernment when they plan a playlist.  One example I can think of is the many songs brought into the church that come from heretical thought.  The beliefs of those writing the music is important.   There are many songs with lyrics that lack depth or appear to be love songs to a lover rather than a worship song to Christ.  There are songs written by men who are of questionable theology (I can think of a group like Phillips Craig and Dean who subscribe to Oneness Pentacostal doctrine).  The songs are brought in as worship but the meaning is lost on the congregation.  So  many groups cross over and use one another’s songs, so it’s really hard to judge.

To me, it’s important that the messages from the pulpit are true.  It’s also important that the music be true.  It’s all important.

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Today, my church got together (and some others) and we sang for the woman who is dying of cancer.  She’s off treatments, so she’s actually temporarily feeling better…but she’ll eventually have the cancer take over or her ruined bowels (from the treatments) will give out…or an infection will win.  She has been given 2-8 weeks to live.  We sang several very tradtional old hymns such as “It is Well,” “How Great Thou Art,” “My Jesus I Love Thee,” “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow” and many more.  We recorded this for her as she cannot come to church anymore for worship.  The time was a worship set, and it was to honor God.  She doesn’t want us to sing to her, but to God so she can have that exerience of being with the body in worship.  I so hope it blesses her in these days.  My littlest decided she was going to fuss and fidget, so we went in the hallway for part of the time (no one would have wanted to hear a toddler crying MAAAAMAAAA in between several songs), but I was able to sneak back in for a bit longer.  We then were able to leave her a message on tape, so she could be encouraged.  If there was more to do, I would do it.  We have provided meals for the husband and daughters each week, and helped the family move things from a storage shed.  Still, we cannot take away their pain, cannot make mom live longer.  In light of that, singing and recording it for her was a way to make the most of the time that is left.  I really like how this church loves this little family and has served in their time of need.  This is the body….

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We have attended a small Baptist church in the area over several weeks. It’s been interesting to see even the children carrying Bibles, but more than that, they are taking actual notes during sermons along with the adults. It’s a church that not only says it’s important to get into the Bible, the people appear to actually do it during service. The Sunday school lessons match, meaning that the children’s lessons and the adult lessons are on the same topic thereby allowing for discussion at home. The younger children do go to a seperate worship hour while the adults hear expository teaching, but this is children 8 and under. The rest of the children are in service, and this adds to family unity and truly gives the parents the power to teach back. In our former church, there were very few children in “big church” and the teenagers were seperated out into a place called “the warehouse.” The younger teens were there in the early hour I believe, and the older teens in the second hour of service. With many children in a family, it would be impossible to participate in the Sunday School type lessons and for the teens to get to go to their service and for families to really go to church together. The segregation is staggering to me since I’ve thought about it. Even women with newborns go “hide” in a cryroom to nurse. This is a nice service for these women, but the message is definitely that parents are within their rights to expect to not have children interrupting them in service. This means that children are not disciplined in church, and do not get the message with their parents. It also allows for teaching to occur that parents aren’t aware of. The Baptist church we attend now appears to have set in place a system that really gives parents the opportunity to know exactly what has been poured into their kids’ minds. It’s refreshing.

The music is maybe a little stiff for some in the church we’re currently attending. The choir director, or whatever his title is, stands directly behind the pulpit and directs the congregation through hymns and songs just as I recall choir directors doing in church when I was a child. There is unfortunately an overhead rather than song books, which means people are not gaining the benefit of seeing the actual music lines, which I find a shame. Otherwise, the music is orderly and worshipful. There’s no oversentimentality, no calls for raising hands, no whipping up the crowd. There’s no video distraction behind the words, no light show. There are instruments, a guitar, and the like, but the sound is not overpowering or rock. Some more modern songs are used, but very old hymns are also used. The focus is definitely not on singers, no matching outfits. Though there might be a few singers and instruments, it’s not a show. Not saying all our former church did during singing was wrong, but it’s just different. All the glitz is gone. There’s not an atmosphere created, so the emotions and worship is all on the individual and not on the music minister. I really did enjoy music at our former church, but again, it was more about the style than the substance in some cases. Our former pastor of music was very purposeful about choosing songs to go with the message and reading psalms out loud. He did think raising hands and extras were important, and he also liked to really challenge the church to pray and read the word. He refocused on the gospel often, which made the time rich. Most complaints by people attending our former church was that the “worship time” was too long and drawn out, just get me to the message already. Because the worship pastor didn’t get off into emergent or contemplative messages, and he brought in the gospel often, I clung to his speaking between songs and listened to his readings etc. when things were getting bad in the pulpit messages. The music minister of the church we’re now attending doesn’t add in so much fluff, but he does read scripture and presents music in a cut and dried way. I think a middle ground would be nice between the two but I have no complaints. I love singing more doctrine rich hymns, and each Sunday we get several and not just an adapted one or two mixed with repetative choruses.

When it comes to the actual preaching, the two churches are vastly different. The one we’re attending is expository and straight from the Bible. The former had themes based on books or on life application often. There was a rotation between a Bible string for weeks, and then a book for several weeks, and back and forth. Of course, there was a text read in every sermon, and the Bible or people from the Bible were referenced, but it was never really verse by verse (though the former church has been digging into Nehemiah for many weeks since we left using this for a campaign to raise money and to chide those who would not “get on the wall”…the amount of time in Nehemiah has been strange though and people who we speak to comment that it’s been great to really “get into the word” though they don’t really see the subtle move toward more submission, more commitment, more leader authority that I hear when I listen online). In contrast, the church we’re attending is spending many months in John. They add historical context, interpretation of the text, and life application from scripture and not from some author’s opinion. It’s rather refreshing to hear a message week after week from the Bible. Imagine going to church and knowing the message is coming straight from the Bible and not psychology or some such author. With our former church I was able to take sections of sermons and google, finding the sources for the sermons. In the church we’re attending now, the pastor prepares the lesson from scripture. I haven’t tried to google, but I suspect the books that agree would be sermons based upon that text that were also expository and weren’t used necessarily by the pastor to write the sermon.

When people stand for membership, and we’ve witnessed this a few times, they have stated they tried churches in the area or attended for years and found them “less than Biblical” or found this particular church to be genuinely focused on God’s word in the Bible. The hunger for the gospel makes a difference to the people in the congregation, many have left our former church and others like it. We are among people who value the Bible as we do. This gives me hope.

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