Saturday, June 16, 2012

20 Seconds of Courage

I just watched "We Bought a Zoo"... cute movie!  It was based on a true story, which I had not realized before.  There were a lot of good/heart warming/funny things in the movie but the one thing that's sticking with me was this phrase; "All it takes is 20 seconds of courage".  The main character refers to this and you see it at different points in the movie.
20 seconds is not long at all.  Just having 20 seconds of courage might be all it takes to make some incredible changes!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

I'm Rowing Back

I'm sure other people have thought of this but it really just struck me last night.  My son watched "Titanic" (well, the last half or so) and described to me the awfulness of people leaving in lifeboats while others on the ship (or already in the water) were screaming and crying... and dying.   People all around us are dying without Christ.  I see it in my hometown where so many are really GOOD people.  I mean, they are kind, generous, devoted, loyal to their own and to this town.  But, without a relationship with Christ, they are dying and don't know it.  
I left town for a number of years and worked as a missionary in France, in Italy and then lived in New Jersey where we preached the gospel and saw lives changed.  Now, here we are back in my hometown.  These are my people.  These are my roots.  
We are faced with some choices.  The easiest choice is to save ourselves, to row away to be comfortable and safe and provide for our family.  The other choice is to stay and row towards the sinking ship, climb aboard and help.  
We don't like to think about people's eternal destinies, but God is very clear about it.  There is a hell.  There is a place of eternal punishment and suffering.  And the people all around us are either going there or they are going to heaven, a place of eternal  life and joy and peace.  Because of what Jesus has done for us in dying on the cross to pay for our sins we can spend eternity with Him.  Because of our sin... in nature in by choice, we are destined for hell.  Jesus came to rescue us!  "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God".(Romans 3:23) "The wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus, our Lord." (Romans 6:23)  "He came to His own and His own received Him not, but to all who did receive Him, to those who believed on His name, He gave the right to become children of God." (John 1:12).   
Who wouldn't want to believe that "everybody goes to heaven"??  I mean, sure!  Wouldn't we all like to believe in a happy ending for everyone regardless of choices made in this life?  So many people believe this!  It's much more comforting to think that when someone dies they go to heaven (or "cease to exist" as some claim) than to wonder and think they perhaps your loved one has just gone to a place of eternal punishment! "but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name." John 20:31
I don't want to get into arguments - I just want to help rescue people.  And the people the most dear to me are right here in my hometown.  
So, instead of rowing away and plugging my ears to their cries, I'm staying and doing all I can to help rescue the perishing.
  1. Rescue the perishing, care for the dying,
    Snatch them in pity from sin and the grave;
    Weep o’er the erring one, lift up the fallen,
    Tell them of Jesus, the mighty to save.
    • Refrain:
      Rescue the perishing, care for the dying,
      Jesus is merciful, Jesus will save.
  2. Though they are slighting Him, still He is waiting,
    Waiting the penitent child to receive;
    Plead with them earnestly, plead with them gently;
    He will forgive if they only believe.
  3. Down in the human heart, crushed by the tempter,
    Feelings lie buried that grace can restore;
    Touched by a loving heart, wakened by kindness,
    Chords that were broken will vibrate once more.
  4. Rescue the perishing, duty demands it;
    Strength for thy labor the Lord will provide;
    Back to the narrow way patiently win them;
    Tell the poor wand’rer a Savior has died.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Corporate Worship or Concert

I went to a special worship service yesterday honoring our graduates.  I was excited for our seniors and for the worship service.  As the service began we were asked to stand for a time of "worship".  What happened was not "corporate worship". It was really good singing, it was heartfelt and the words were wonderful.  The only thing was, it wasn't "corporate".  The people up front were singing their hearts out.  They were so "into it" and some in the "audience" were also "into it", but for the most part everyone else just stood there with their mouths closed.  The arrangements of the songs were complex (beautiful but complex) and well crafted.  It could have been a song on Christian radio!  But, as much as we wanted to sing, we really couldn't.  We didn't know their arrangements and couldn't follow where they were going.  It was more like a concert.  They were enjoying their time of worship but we were left to just stand there and watch.  Honestly it felt a little uncomfortable watching them.  Shouldn't we be focusing on the Lord? Shouldn't we be watching somewhere else?  I wasn't sure what to do.  I wanted to sit down and read something while they finished their songs.  It was awkward.  It reminded me of an article I read a few months ago.  Here is an excerpt:

"When we think about the legacy of the 16th century Reformation our minds quickly go to such sublime themes as justification by faith and the priesthood of all believers.  However, if you actually lived in the 16th century, the biggest “felt” impact of the Reformation was in the area of worship.  Prior to the Reformation, worshippers were largely passive.  They watched as the Latin mass was sung, Psalms were chanted and the priest consecrated the Eucharist.  The Reformation was a stark reminder that the word liturgy means the “work of the people.”   The Reformation spawned an explosion of congregational hymn writing which produced such remarkable hymns...A Mighty Fortress is our God, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, O For a 1000 Tongues to Sing and Blessed Assurance.  Within a few generations the church was singing again!  Worship was active, not passive.
In our own day we have seen another explosion of wonderful hymn-writing.  Great hymns such as How Deep the Father’s Love for Us(Stuart Townend), How Great is our God  (Chris Tomlin), Blessed be Your Name (Matt Redman) can be heard in churches across the nation.  Having preached in dozens of churches across the nation I have observed that contemporary worship services are almost invariably led by worship bands.... The result is hundreds, if not thousands of worshippers, all standing and listening to the worship band, but not actively singing themselves.  The worshippers are, to be fair, more engaged perhaps than at a concert, but, nevertheless, we are seeing increasingly passive worshippers.  A hard fought battle of the 16th century may need to be fought all over again.
I have a proposed solution which is not all that radical, but could make the difference.
First, worship bands should emphasize acoustical sound rather than electronically amplified sound.  In other words, we need a “worship unplugged” movement.  We can increase the number of musicians and instruments if necessary and, in the case of very large sanctuaries, a modest acoustical amplification might be desirable.  But  the goal would be to primarily hear people singing and worshipping God rather than hundreds of people watching the worship band worship God...
Also, worship bands must reflect more on the “singability” of a proposed worship song.  In the post-Reformation period when so many new hymns were being written, they were specifically written for the church to sing.  This means that, generally speaking, they were simple rhythms set to predictable meters and were musically kept within a “normal” musical range for average voices.  Today’s worship songs are normally taken from the music industry.  These songs are far more complex, rarely have a regularized meter, were written to be “performed,” recorded and put out by professional singers.  Even highly trained worship bands spend hours learning complex rhythms, various musical bridges and irregular vamps between various parts of the song.  The goal often is to try and reproduce as close as possible how it sounded when it was professionally performed.   Musicians may not realize how exceedingly difficult this is for the average congregation.  If you add to this the fact that choruses have a much shorter “shelf life” than a typical hymn, then the turnover rate merely adds to an already challenging situation from a purely musical point of view.  Thus, contemporary worship bands must either learn to write songs specifically for public worship (Stuart Townend is already doing this), or take performance level songs and adapt them into an act of worship."
I've done a lot of thinking, reading and studying worship for the past several years.  I'm more and more convinced that what happens in a lot of contemporary churches is not truly corporate worship but more like a concert.  I'm sure the people who attend those churches, are familiar with their particular "set" of songs and the way their band leads is just right for them, but for someone new and un-initiated, it would be an uncomfortable experience.  I'm still thinking, reading and studying as I attempt to help others worship God.  I don't know if there is one "right way" to "do" worship, but what I do know is that I'd rather be a participant, raising my heart, soul and voice in worship than stand and watch while a few people "perform" for us.