Church, Worship

Throwback Thursday ~ Rolling Out the Welcome Wagon

Originally published August 25, 2010

The LORD said to him, “I have heard your prayer and your supplication, which you have made before Me; I have consecrated this house which you have built by putting My name there forever, and My eyes and My heart will be there perpetually. I Kings 9:3

As Golden Girl Sophia would say, “Picture it:”

After church one Sunday, a friend says, “Why don’t you come over to my house tomorrow night for dinner?”

So, the appropriate time comes on Monday evening, and you drive over to her house. The door is standing open because she is expecting you, and you’re familiar enough with each other that you feel comfortable just walking on in.

As you’re walking in, you see your friend standing there, and you say to her, “I invite you into this house! You are welcome here!”

Anything seem a little off about that?

Well, of course that seems strange. It’s her house.

But that’s what is taking place in churches all over America every Sunday morning. I saw it in a televised local church service last week. The worship leader stood up to lead the first song and said, “God we welcome you into this place!” I’ve heard others say things like, “Lord, we invite you into this house this morning!” We sing songs like Holy Spirit, Thou art Welcome and Lord, we Invite You.

‘Scuse me? Isn’t the church God’s house?

Of course, it isn’t God’s house in the same way the temple was God’s house, in that there isn’t a holy of holies where the actual presence of God resides. On the other hand, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it’s only a building, like the post office or a doughnut shop.

At some point, way back when, or maybe even recently, a body of Believers got together and asked God to give them a place where they could worship Him. God saw fit to answer that prayer. He provided the land, the permits, and every brick, nail, and piece of sheetrock. He allowed His name to be placed there when we decided to call it “Grace Fellowship”, “St. Luke’s”, or “First Baptist”. He protects that building and allows it to stand as a testimony to the community: God, and God’s people, can be found here.

It’s not your church. It’s not my church. It’s God’s church. And it exists for His glory.

But somewhere along the way, we’ve forgotten that. Somewhere along the way, we gave God an eviction notice and became squatters on His property. How arrogant have we become that we strut into church as though we own the place, and dare to invite Him, to welcome Him into His own house as though He were a guest? How dare we?

Maybe it’s partly because we no longer have a holy of holies that we don’t see God’s house as sacred. “Ah,” you may say, “but that’s Old Testament thinking. Now we understand that when we gather together in His name, He is with us.”

Really?

When it’s my church, my comfort, my pew, my ministry that nobody else better touch, my style of music, my opinion about how long the sermon should be, my feelings that got hurt, my idea of how things should operate, what I got out of the service, are we really gathering in His name?

Welcome, Lord. Are You sure You want to come in?

Prayer, Worship

Throwback Thursday ~ Great Expectations

Originally published February 6, 2014expectgreatthings-necklace (1)

Do we expect too much from God? Is that even possible?

No.

Yes.

Well, kinda.

You see, I’m not talking about expecting something and God being unable to deliver it. That’s just plain silly when talking about our omnipotent God. No, what I’m talking about is whether or not the expectations we come up with are grounded in biblical reality.

What do we mean when we talk about “praying expectantly” or coming to a time of corporate worship, study, or prayer, and “expecting God to do something”? Just what is it we are expecting God to do?

Could it be that He’s already doing something and we’re just not seeing it?

Sometimes, when we read God’s word, we expect God to do something just as “big” as He did in Moses’, Paul’s, or some other Bible hero’s life. We forget that the Bible is sort of like a “highlight reel” of the events in the lives of a handful of people that God drafted to be part of His visible activity at that moment in history.

We focus on the moments Moses had at the burning bush or walking through the Red Sea, and that’s what we want, too. r643167_4468740But we forget that Moses’ life wasn’t like that every day. We forget about the eighty years he spent wandering around the desert, half in the day to day monotony of shepherding on the back side of Midian, the other half, wandering around the wilderness with the people of Israel.

Eighty years of nothing special. Day after day of ordinary. Week after week of God not “showing up” and doing something amazing. Eighty years. That’s a lifetime for most of us.

Was God any less at work in Moses’ eighty years of desert thwandering than He was when He gave Moses the Law or spoke to him face to face or sent manna? Of course not. During those days, God was protecting Moses from the heat and wild animals, providing food and shelter for him, blessing him with a wife and children, directing his steps, teaching him obedience and trust.

Just like He does for us.

Have you read a Bible passage this week that allowed you to see more of God’s glory? God is doing something. He’s revealing Himself to you.

Are you praying for someone’s salvation? God is doing something. He’s working on the heart of that person.

Did you have a place to sleep last night and food on your table today? God is doing something. He’s providing for your needs.

Do you leave church on Sundays having been fed the truth of God’s word by your pastor? God is doing something. He’s growing you to spiritual maturity.

Is it possible that we’re expecting God to do something in our lives that isn’t in His particular plan for us? You aren’t Moses, and neither am I. Neither were the million or so other Israelites Moses led out of Egypt, and neither have the billions of other people been who have inhabited earth since Creation. Moses was Moses. You are you. God doesn’t have the same plan for your life He had for Moses’ life.

And, by the way, have you ever noticed that most of the people in the Bible through whom God did something “big” were not expecting it or asking for it? Moses wasn’t expecting God to show up in that burning bush. David wasn’t asking God to do great things in his life when Samuel dropped by to anoint him as the next king. Both of them were hanging out with the sheep when God called them. Paul thought he was already an awesome servant of God when he got knocked off his high horse. Mary wasn’t expecting to be expecting. She was just a teenage girl growing up and learning how to run a household.

1 Thessalonians 4:10b-12 says:

But we urge you, brothers to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.

That’s what all of those Bible characters were doing when God chose them. Just regular people living regular lives doing regular work. Just like billions of other people through whom God has not chosen to do anything big and spectacular.

keep-calm-god-is-at-workBut that doesn’t mean God hasn’t been “doing something” in all of our lives. In fact, the vast majority of the work God does in our lives every single day goes unnoticed and unappreciated.

So, instead of setting our expectations on those very rare “wow factor” works of God that seem so appealing, maybe we should be asking Him to open our eyes to, and make us thankful for, all of the things He’s already doing in our lives. Instead of having great expectations of things that God has never promised us, maybe we should ask Him for, and expect Him to, do what He has promised:

Forgiveness for our sin

Christ-likeness

Provision for our needs

Endurance

The ability and opportunity to help others

Faithfulness

Humility

Patience

The opportunity to share the gospel

Because “all the promises of God find their Yes in him.” You can expect it.

Worship

In My Humble Opinion…The One with the Modernized Hymns

I don’t often share my personal, completely subjective opinions with y’all. I figure there’s enough of that in the world and what’s sorely lacking is unambiguous biblical truth. So that’s what I try to share instead.

But today, I have an opinion. I’m sure it’ll be wildly unpopular and generate a bunch of hate mail, but that’s in my wheelhouse, so here goes:

I don’t really like most modernizations of hymns.

I didn’t say, “I don’t like modern hymns.” There are several of those I like, and contemporary hymn writers like the Gettys are doing a bang up job of writing lovely new, doctrinally sound hymns. Frankly, we need more theologically rich contemporary hymns.

What I mean is that I don’t like some well-meaning hipster to pick up How Great Thou Art and go, “Hey, those words – most of them anyway…or…at least a few of them – are cool, but that melody, harmony, tempo, and syncopation? Haul out the mothballs! We can’t be singing THAT in church! It’s gotta sound like something on CCM radio! Relevant! Fresh! Cutting edge!”. And then they proceed to put their grubby little paws all over someone else’s hard work and mangle it into something barely reminiscent of the work of art it once was.

It’s kind of the same reason I hate modern remakes of movies of yesteryear. It takes something that was great the way it was and ends up diminishing it to make it palatable and marketable to today’s consumer.

Hymn modernizers are often melody driven. They take a melody they like and force the original hymn lyrics to fit it – leading to awkward phrasing or the need to change words – rather than letting the lyrics lead and crafting a melody around them.

What’s wrong with the original music? I mean it. What on earth is wrong with the original music to the hymn? Nobody’s clamoring for the modernization of Gregorian chant or classical music or big band or 50’s rock, or 60’s folk music, or disco. People listen to those genres and appreciate them for what they are, and if they want to listen to a different genre, they switch genres, they don’t play musical Silly Putty with the current genre. If every generation of people had taken the hymn modernizers’ approach, we’d currently be listening to the 21st century version of Nebuchadnezzar’s horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, and bagpipe.

To me, it’s functionally musical plagiarism even if it doesn’t fit the technical legal definition. They take an existing piece of someone else’s work, change at least 50% of it (sometimes more if they change some of the lyrics in addition to the music) and popularize it under their own name. Whatever happened to “Keep your eyes on your own paper and do your own work.”?

Most of the hymns now being modernized were written at a time when people sang like normal human beings, which nobody seems to know how to do any more. Today, when listening to modernized hymns, you have two choices of “artists”: the wispy, breathy ones who sound like a stiff breeze would knock them over, or the moany, growly ones whose vocalizations are more fit for a Barry White ditty (let the reader understand) than a hymn.

But…but…but…

Yes, I know all the exceptions to everything I’ve just said. I know various hymns have been modernized from time immemorial. I know lyrics of songs are often changed to fit existing melodies. I know some people like modernized hymns and growly or wispy singers.

But that’s kind of the point of why I posted an opinion today. This is my personal preference. I get to like what I like and dislike what I dislike as long as I’m within the confines of Scripture. So do you. So does everybody in the Body. And that’s OK.

Varied personal opinions and preferences – not biblical truth, mind you; we have to know the difference – are not things to divide over. We need to make sure we’re listening to each other, understanding each other, and valuing the unique quirks and characteristics God created in each other. God put each of us together differently for His glory. Those differences show the kind of creativity and diversity He is capable of.

So you have your subjective opinion and I’ll have mine, and we’ll love each other and have those opinions to the glory of God.

Just keep your mitts off How Great Thou Art, if you please.

Top 10, Worship

Top 10 Songs of Comfort and Joy During COVID-19 Quarantine

 

How’s your quarantine going? Climbing the walls yet? Miss gathering with your brothers and sisters at church? Anxious about being out of work? Worried about what the future might hold? There’s a solution to all of that: worship.

Here, in no particular order, are my top 10 picks for songs to get you worshiping and to keep you encouraged during the days ahead. Perfect for your church’s online worship service, or for singing while you wash your hands for the eleventeenth time in five minutes. Click on the title of each song for a lyric sheet.

(Note: I do not necessarily endorse all of these songwriters or performers, the churches/organizations they represent, any other songs they may have written or performed, or their theology. If you decide to follow any of these people or groups, check out their theology first to make sure it’s biblical.)

1.
Great Is Thy Faithfulness

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”
Lamentations 3:22-24

 

2.
You Are My Hiding Place

While we’re “hiding” in our homes from this virus, let us never forget that God alone is our true hiding place, the only place of safety and security. Do you recognize the Bible verses in this song?

 

3.
He Will Hold Me Fast

The God who loved you enough to give His only Son for you loves you enough to carry you through any crisis. God’s got you. He’s not letting go.

 

4.
He Leadeth Me

“Content, whatever lot I see, since ’tis God’s hand that leadeth me.” It’s hard to be content in the midst of chaos. This lovely hymn keeps bringing us back to what should be our focus: Whatever we’re going through – still waters or troubled sea – if we’re in Christ, we can trust that God will lead us through.

 

5.
Count Your Blessings

God’s Word always leads us to look to Him and be thankful, regardless of our circumstances. Here’s a toe-tapper that’ll remind you to focus on how much God has blessed you! (And if you like the “old school” version of Count Your Blessings, enjoy! lyrics here)

 

6.
To God Be the Glory

“Give Him the glory, great things He hath done”? In the middle of a plague? Yes. There’s no better time than in the midst of distress to exalt the name of the Lord and “let the earth hear His voice.” Sometimes it takes calamity to cut through all the noise and open the world’s ears to the gospel. Praise the Lord!

 

7.
God Will Take Care of You

In Christ, we have the rest and assurance of knowing that no matter what happens, God will take care of us.

 

8.
His Eye Is on the Sparrow

Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Matthew 6:26

 

9.
Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus

Get your eyes off the things of earth – fear, disease, need, uncertainty- and turn them back where they belong. On Jesus.

10.
God Be With You Till We Meet Again

Are you missing your church family? This is a great song to help you prayerfully keep them in remembrance…until you meet again.


Bonus Song!
How Great Thou Art

Did you see the celebrity collab video of Imagine that was making the rounds on social media recently? Well, you probably won’t recognize as many faces on this one, but I think it’ll bless you a whole lot more. (Kudos to brothers Garrett O’Hara for coming up with the idea and Andrew Vasel for editing all the videos together on YouTube!)


Which worship songs are encouraging you during this time?

Church, Parenting, Worship

Throwback Thursday ~ Churchmanship 101: Training Your Child to Behave in Church

Originally published January 30, 2015

churchmanship-behave

they all walked sedately into the church. The first clang of the bell rang out when they were on the steps.

After that, there was nothing to do but sit still till the sermon was over. It was two hours long. Almanzo’s legs ached and his jaw wanted to yawn, but he dared not yawn or fidget. He must sit perfectly still and never take his eyes from the preacher’s solemn face and wagging beard. Almanzo couldn’t understand how Father knew that he wasn’t looking at the preacher, if Father was looking at the preacher himself. But Father always did know.

From Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder¹

A hundred and fifty-ish years ago, this is how children were expected to behave in church. I love a good sermon, but I’m not sure even I could meet those behavioral expectations, and, these days, I certainly wouldn’t expect my children to. But fast forward from the 1800’s to 2015, and think about how you may have seen some children behave in church. It’s quite a bit different from Almanzo’s experience, wouldn’t you say?

I don’t think we need to dial things back a hundred and fifty years, though. A little fidgeting, a Bible dropped loudly on the floor, a few seconds of wailing while you frantically search for the lost pacifier, a bit of jabbering, none of these things are a big deal. But neither should a toddler be allowed to run up and down the aisles of the sanctuary for the bulk of the sermon. Eight year olds do not need to be crawling around on the floor between the pews playing with toys. Twelve year olds can reasonably be expected to stay awake, sit still, and pay attention during the service. We expect our children to obey us (and other adults) and behave properly in a variety of places: school, the grocery store, restaurants, on their sports teams, at scout meetings. Why, when the worship service is far more important than any of these, would we not require them to act appropriately in church? And when we require them to behave themselves in all these other venues but not in church, what are we teaching them about the importance of church, reverence, God?

But, if you’ll determine in your heart to train your child to control himself and behave appropriately during church, you might be surprised at all the blessings and benefits you encounter along the way.

What is appropriate church behavior?

That’s going to vary by age. Obviously, a three year old isn’t going to sit perfectly still for thirty minutes and take sermon notes. But, believe it or not, you can start (and I would strongly recommend) training your child from infancy that church is a place where we sit still, sit quietly, listen when it’s time to listen, and participate when it’s time to participate.

How do I train my child?

The first and best way to train your child is by modeling proper church behavior yourself. Does he see you singing enthusiastically during the worship time? Are you checking your makeup or Facebook during prayer? Are you visibly paying attention during the sermon? Constantly talking to your husband or a friend during the service? Your child will imitate what he sees and take his cues from you as to what is acceptable behavior.

Otherwise, you train your child in church the same way you would train him in any other situation. If you were at a restaurant, and your baby was crying incessantly, you would tend to his needs at the table, or, if you couldn’t, you would take him out to the lobby or outside until he calmed down. The simple act of doing so begins to plant the idea in his mind that a certain level of behavior is expected in that venue.

If your school aged child won’t sit quietly in his seat at school, the teacher administers the appropriate discipline, and, possibly, you do too, at home.

It’s the same way at church. You let your child know what is expected of him behavior-wise at church, praise him when he does well, and administer discipline when he disobeys.

A few helpful hints:

Infants and toddlers:
If your church offers a nursery, there’s no shame in making use of it. As a stay at home mom, I well remember the days when church was the only opportunity I had for a small breather from my children, adult fellowship, and hearing God’s word without interruption.

But if you want to have your infant or toddler in church with you, that’s great! Be sure your diaper bag is well stocked with anything you might need to keep a little one relatively still and quiet. Bottles, pacifiers, small snacks that won’t make too much of a mess, some small, soft toys (such as stuffed animals or board books- maybe even a special one that’s only for Sundays) that he can quietly play with in his lap.

Try to choose a seat on the aisle near a door in case you need to make a hasty exit. Also, try to sit somewhere where any noise your child might make won’t be picked up by the pastor’s (or other) microphone.

Older children:
Sometimes well meaning Sunday school teachers serve sugary snacks or other foods/drinks that might make your child jittery. If so, it may be more difficult for him to sit quietly during church. Check out the snack situation in your child’s class, and serve him a breakfast that won’t give him the fidgets.

Make a bathroom/water fountain pit stop before the service a weekly habit. If your child would benefit from running a lap or two outside before the service to work off some energy, make that part of the weekly routine as well.

Dress your child appropriately, yet comfortably for church. I still remember scratchy lace on some of my childhood Sunday dresses. And sitting up against the back of a pew or chair wearing a dress that ties in the back? Absolute torture when that knot dug into my spine. It’s kind of hard to sit still when your entire outfit is conspiring against you.

Get them started on taking notes during the sermon. Give your preschooler some crayons and paper and help him listen for something in the sermon he can draw a picture of (a sheep, Jesus, an angel, a garden…).

Lower elementary aged children might enjoy taking “tally mark” notes. Make a brief list of words your child is likely to hear during the sermon (God, Jesus, Bible, Love…) and instruct him to make a tally mark next to the word any time he hears it during the sermon. Some pre-readers can even attempt this if you draw a couple of small pictures instead of words (a heart for “love,” a cross for “Jesus,” etc.) Before church starts, try to guess with your child which word will get the most marks. After church, count up the marks and see if you were right. You may even want to do your own tally mark sheet during the sermon to model for your child what you want him to do.

Some churches offer a fill in the blank sermon outline in the bulletin. This is a perfect note taking activity for older children and tweens. They can also be encouraged to turn in their Bibles to all the Scriptures the pastor mentions, copy down a verse from the text of the sermon, or write down any questions that occur to them as they listen.

And, speaking of questions, another fun activity is for each family member to write down a couple of questions, and their answers, from the sermon. Then, in the car on the way home, each person gets to ask his questions. Whoever gets the most correct answers gets to pick what’s for lunch (or bragging rights, or something else fun). It’ll keep EVERYONE paying attention, and it’s a great way to reinforce and discuss the sermon.

Attend church every Sunday. Not only is it biblical to attend faithfully, but children thrive on routine, and it will be easier for them to remember how to behave if they’re learning and practicing those behavior skills weekly instead of in a “hit and miss” fashion.

 

Training your child to behave well in church isn’t easy at times. I know. I have 6 children and we have raised all of them in church. But if you and your husband will invest the time and effort, everyone benefits. Your pastor will be able to preach uninterrupted. Your fellow church members will be able to worship undistracted. Once your child begins to behave himself better, you will be able to focus more on the service and be less frazzled. But most importantly, your child will develop the skills necessary for hearing and paying attention to God’s word being proclaimed, and what a blessing that will be to him now, and for the rest of his life.

What are some things that have worked well
to help your child behave in church?

 

¹Laura Ingalls Wilder, Farmer Boy  (New York: Harper Collins, 1933), 90-91

This article was originally published under a different title at Satisfaction Through Christ.