Friday, 17 August 2018

Hymn Notes: HERE I AM TO WORSHIP


An ad hoc group of our own singers calls us to worship today, singing HERE I AM TO WORSHIP. The praise song was written in 1999 by British composer and worship leader Tim Hughes and has been well received by evangelical churches worldwide; it is published in the Baptist Hymnal (2008) and other major hymnals. It is reported that the song came from Hughes’ personal reflection on Phil 2 which details Jesus’ willingness to become a man and to die a humiliating death, and his subsequent exaltation whereby all creation will one day bow and confess that Jesus is Lord.
The song has a contemplative or meditative feel to it, one that is not to be rushed or sung mechanically or lightheartedly. The chorus emphasizes simply that, in light of Jesus’s deep love and sacrifice, the singer has now come to worship Christ in humble adoration. The song has a short bridge section in which the phrase “I will never know how much it cost to see my sin upon that cross” is thrice repeated, to emphasize how our worship and thankfulness should be complete and genuine.

Friday, 10 August 2018

Pastor's Page: I Want That Mountain (Josh 14)

Caleb had done his part. He had marched out of Egypt with Moses and he gave the minority report when the 12 spies returned from their reconnaissance of Canaan. Although the Bible is silent otherwise, he very likely had fought alongside of Joshua in the battle with the Amelekites, and he may well have been a key figure in the 40 years of wilderness wandering. He may have served in the army that swept through Jericho and into the farthest reaches of the conquest of Canaan. The land still had areas still unconquered, but the conquest armies were dismissed and the soldiers were told to go to their new homes and enjoy God’s bounty in peace and rest.
But no, not Caleb. He would have none of this retirement business. He had explored the Hebron country and seen its bounty. He took seriously the divine mandate that the Canaanites must be driven from the land, and he reckoned he had enough strength to do the job.
Not that conquering Hebron would be easy. Caleb knew the challenges. No doubt his own folks pointed out his old age: “Caleb, you’re 85 years old. You’ve got no business driving Canaanites out and resettling all that hill country!” Worse than that, the region was under the control of the Anak family, including its three sons whose giant stature made them formidable warlords.
Caleb would not be dissuaded. When his tribe presented itself to Joshua to receive its allotment of land, he boldly presented himself and with much bluster he told Joshua that he wanted that mountain: “Now give me this hill country that the Lord promised me that day. You yourself heard then that the Anakites were there and their cities were large and fortified, but, the Lord helping me, I will drive them out just as he said” (Josh 14:12).
Since he believed God’s promises and saw his mighty deeds, Caleb scorned the threat of Anak and his three giant sons, and he went out to do the work God called him to do.
In Caleb’s prime years, the Lord protected him against all the wilderness dangers and helped him through many battles. The Lord also granted him many more years of health and vigor. Caleb perceived that God grants life and health for one reason alone, and that is to serve him and to advance the kingdom, and not to serve his own interest. Even in our twilight years, let us remain true and faithful, trusting, serving every day. Soon we will see Jesus our Lord face to face and it will be worth it all.


*This weekly blog article is designed for the Sunday Bulletin. If you need filler for your newsletter or bulletin, feel free to use it, with due attribution.

Hymn Notes: I'll Be a Sunbeam


We know very little about 19th century lyricist Nellie Talbot or her intention in writing this hymn. It has, however, become a favorite children’s song, perhaps because of its simple text, references to home, school, and play, and the sunbeam imagery that easily captures children’s imaginations. In 1900, the song was put to music by prestigious composer Edwin O. Excell who compiled and edited over 90 hymnals and songbooks, and produced the most common arrangement of AMAZING GRACE. The tune Excell composed for the song is melodic and easily singable.
Although the text is amenable to children, the message preaches well to adults. The sunbeam recalls light of the world imagery used by Jesus, and likewise fits Paul’s call to be stars shining in a dark and crooked generation. The text defines what it means to be a sunbeam: be loving and kind, pleasant and happy. The song dovetails nicely with our recent sermons on the call to holiness:

I will ask Jesus to help me
To keep my heart from sin,
Ever reflecting his goodness,
And always shine for him.

We sing this song today knowing that sunbeams bring a lot of joy and happiness.

Thursday, 12 July 2018

Hymn Notes: ONE DAY


ONE DAY*
Today’s featured hymn is a familiar one, but not often sung: ONE DAY. This lengthy hymn is comprised of five verses, each integral to the hymn. It tells the story of Christ in sequence, beginning with the virgin birth, crucifixion, burial, the resurrection, and the second coming. We call hymns that tell the whole story of Christ “Salvation History hymns.” While most hymns can well be sung with an omitted second or third verse, omission of any single verse of Salvation History hymns is awkward, although the final verse detailing the second coming can often stand alone.
This Salvation History hymn has an added feature, a chorus that reiterates what Christ did to provide salvation:
Living he loved me, dying he saved me, buried he carried my sins far away.
Rising he justified freely forever; one day he’s coming—O glorious day!
The 9/8 time signature facilitates a lively melody with a celebratory feel. The song ends with a climactic exclamation of Christ’s certain return, O glorious day.

*Hymn Notes is a regular short article for the Sunday bulletin. If you need filler for your bulletin or newsletter, you may freely copy, with due attribution.

Thursday, 14 June 2018

HYMN NOTES: How Deep the Father's Love for Us


This hymn is no stranger to our congregation. It was first written in 1995 and has been sung solo numerous times. Rightly so, since it has become a world-wide favorite contemporary hymn, published in at least 14 hymnbooks—practically every English hymnal of the last 20 years. It was written by British composer Stuart Townend who is best known for his hymn IN CHRIST ALONE.
Townend realizes that hymns should rouse emotions, that the worship of God involves the whole person, including emotions. Yet, he criticizes the kind of worship that focuses on emotional experience, as if having an emotional experience is the goal of worship. He says, “When all of our songs are about how we feel…, we’re missing the point….  I want to encourage the expression of joy, passion and adoration, but I want those things to be the by-product of focusing on God—I don’t want them to become the subject matter” (cited here: http://www.faughnfamily.com/hymn-fathers-love-us/).
With this hymn, Townend achieves his intention. The lyrics clearly convey the gospel message of Christ’s sacrificial death, and how “his wounds have paid my ransom.” Simultaneously, they pierce our hearts over the depth of the Father’s love for us.

HYMN NOTES is a weekly feature of our church's Sunday bulletin. It is meant to promote good hymnody and congregational singing.

Friday, 18 May 2018

Pastor's Page: DOWN TO THE WATER TO PRAY


The movie OH BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? popularized the Appalachian hymn DOWN TO THE WATER TO PRAY, with its celebration of baptism. The movie’s protagonist dismissed baptism, saying he had bigger fish to fry. Hardly!
What is baptism? Is it an act that gets you heaven’s eternal reward (as the character in the movie claimed)? Is it something which must be done to infants to keep them from hell in case they die? Is it like a kindergarten graduation ceremony or a birthday party to make someone feel special? Baptism is too often misunderstood and underappreciated by the Church, even by us Baptists who carry its namesake (the 2008 Baptist Hymnal lists but two baptism hymns!).
The first urgency, the first order of business for a new follower of Jesus, is to obey his command to be baptized. Baptism is not optional. Nor is it to be deferred for the sake of one's personal feelings or preferences. If one fails to be obedient to this first command, what is the point of following Jesus at all?
Yet, baptism is not something which saves. Rather, it is for the person who is already saved. It is for those who have already decided to follow Jesus. Indeed, baptism is a person's declaration to the world: "I am a Christian. I follow Jesus. I pledge my life and devotion to him." As such, baptism is not a private event. It is a public event, to be undertaken before many witnesses.
Moreover, baptism is a multifaceted symbol: 1) the washing away of sins through faith in Christ; 2) the dying and burial of the old life, and the beginning of the new life; 3) the placement of a person into the family of God, the Church.
If you are already a believer but have not received believer's baptism, why don't you join us down at the water to pray?

Saturday, 31 March 2018

Should Our Churches Participate in Special Community Worship Services?

Who knows what you'll get in ecumenical services!
Churches often struggle (rightly so) over the extent of their participation with other churches outside of their own circle of beliefs. Some churches in the community may hold beliefs about the Trinity or sexual ethics that differ from our own churches. Some pastors in the community might be notorious in affirming doctrines contrary to the historic Christian faith. Participating in community worship services for Holy Week, Thanksgiving, or Christmas may send a signal of affirmation or acceptance of their alternative views, leading to normalization of their non-traditional positions.

On the other hand, most churches want to be a part of the local community and to make their presence known to other Christians in their community. Participation usually means that their own pastors will be seen as community leaders as they step up to lead parts of the worship services. Participating churches will even take their turns hosting the special service in their own facilities, with many members of the community attending. All this may advance a church's standing in the community, encourage the church's own mission, and help stabilize the norm for Christian faith and practice.

When pros and cons are considered, there is no obviously correct choice. Some churches may think the potential outcome makes participation worth the risk, while other churches may think the potential outcomes are insufficient to justify the risk.

I pastored a church that hosted one community Lent service. The guest preacher politicized his sermon so much that I felt compelled to cut him off. Fortunately, as I was about to conjure enough courage to do so, he finished.

On the other hand, in last night's Good Friday worship service at the local Lutheran church, with 15 attending from my own church, I was so impressed that the ministers from our seven community churches could look beyond our many significant differences to engage in serious and God-honoring worship that focused on the compelling and astonishing events that culminated in the Lord of Glory giving his life for the sins of the world. It was a very positive experience for our congregation.

In addition to our reflecting upon Christ's death for our sins, our church members were exposed to worship that was very different from our own Low Church Baptist roots. It was something that we're not likely to follow on a routine basis, but we might incorporate some of those High Church worship elements from time to time. Moreover, after the service, I noticed our own church members greeting long-time friends and acquaintances from the community. Regardless of possible negatives, there were some very good things that came out of our participation in this ecumenical community worship service.