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.

Friday, 30 March 2018

Marvelous in Our Eyes--How the Despised Remnant Becomes the Temple of God

Pastor's Take-away
Marvelous in Our Eyes

Solomon’s temple was thought to be one of the great wonders of the world. It stood several centuries before it was destroyed by the Babylonians. It was soon rebuilt, using the old foundations, but lacked its Solomonic splendor. Centuries later, King Herod the Great destroyed a major section of it as he usurped the Jewish throne. This gave him the opportunity to become a great temple builder. He expanded the temple’s original borders and integrated the temple walls into Jerusalem’s fortifications. The new temple was spectacular, a remarkable testimony to human engineering.
Herod completed the main temple structure about the time of Jesus’ birth, but the construction process was not brought to completion for another 50 years. Ironically, the temple itself was tragically destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70, just a decade after its completion, underscoring the truth of the psalmist’s claim, “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain” (127:1).
Ultimately, no matter the grandeur, no matter the time or circumstance, the Jerusalem Temple is but a shadow of God’s heavenly temple. In fact, the Bible depicts a magnificent eschatological (end-time, ideal) temple in Ezek 40-48. The language is highly figurative and stresses the essence of Temple theology, that God dwells in the midst of his people. Indeed, just verses after describing the New Jerusalem (Rev 21), the Revelator declares that there is no temple there, “because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.”
Jesus himself appropriated the essence of Temple theology for himself and his Church. Since Temple theology is encapsulated as God’s dwelling among his people, Jesus makes his disciples into the new, eschatological temple, for where two or three are gathered in the name of Jesus, God is present with them. Thus, Peter writes, “You are coming to Christ, who is the living cornerstone of God’s temple. He was rejected by people, but he was chosen by God for great honor. And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple” (1 Pet 2 NLT).
Accordingly, we believers, united together in Christ, are God’s new temple. Thus Paul writes, “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?” (1 Cor 3). To be sure, God’s Temple is in need of continuous cleansing, just like the Jerusalem temple. Nonetheless, this eschatological New Temple, God’s Church, is built upon the great CORNERSTONE. It is marvelous to our eyes, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.

Thursday, 29 March 2018

What's up with Church Membership?


The Bible teaches that believers should be in fellowship with each other in a significant, covenanted relationship. 185 years ago, our own church congregation organized itself into a covenant community of believers, united together for fellowship, accountability, encouragement, and cooperation and mutual support in ministry. What we are today arises from those initial meetings back in 1833, for those pioneer church members evangelized their friends, and mentored subsequent generations in Christian ministry. Since then, many hundreds of believers joined this congregation and did their part to promote and support the church’s health.

What we will be in years to come will depend upon our own diligence in proclaiming the gospel and nurturing the church’s health. Since our church is governed by its own membership and not by a larger presbytery or diocese, so much depends upon its own members committing themselves to one another in a covenanted fellowship.

Accordingly, we encourage those who attend and participate in our congregation and its ministries to take up church membership—to join the church. We want to encourage congregational ownership of church matters and decision-making.

To this end, we encourage non-members to pray and to seek God’s leading about joining our church. Church membership is offered to baptized believers who are willing to bond with the congregation in love, personal support, accountability, and the financial backing of the church’s mission. In return, members are responsible for voting on church matters and may hold elected office. In every case, we promise our fealty, that is, our intense loyalty, not to some abstract organization, but to one another in the bond of the Spirit.

If you would like to learn more about church membership, contact your pastor or one of your church deacons. 

Sunday, 25 March 2018

The Pastor's Sermon--Where Does It Come From

Sunday's sermon is not merely the product of five to ten hours of sermon prep per week. It arises from:
  1. the totality of the pastor's personal experience--especially his life in Christ,
  2. his education and training under the tutelage of well-seasoned mentors,
  3. his personal devotional life,
  4. his overall knowledge of the Bible and biblical theology
  5. his interaction with congregants throughout the week (month, and even years) as he prays over them and carries the combined weight of their own personal burdens
  6. his non-stop ruminating over the church's needs

The good sermon is the product of all this, empowered and guided by the Spirit.

Yet in the end, so much depends upon the individual listener's own receptivity and spiritual sensitivity.

Sunday, 21 January 2018

Sanctity of Life Sunday Prayer

O wise God and heavenly Father,
We praise you for your love and watchcare over us, and for granting us life with abundant blessings. Thank you for calling us to care for one another and to safeguard the weakest and most vulnerable among us. We thank you for granting us the joyful miracle of birth and new life, for our newborn children and grandchildren, and nieces and nephews. May we never cease to be amazed by the gift of children—every one of whom is made in your image, each endowed with measureless worth and the right to life, deserving of extraordinary nurture and protection.
Yet, Father, we mournfully confess that Satan has cast a great delusion on our society today, so that unborn children are so often viewed as commodities or even as liabilities to be dispensed with or discarded as inconvenient chattel or a bad real estate investment. Our hearts tremble and lurch at the thought of the loss of even one of these most innocent babies at the hand of the abortionist, let alone millions of them.
So, Father, we pray with great earnestness that you would clear the fog of delusion that has made our society so callous and ungrateful for the gift of new life so that, regardless of circumstance, each baby will be welcomed to this world with joy and tender hearts. Make us effective in winning the political and public relations battles necessary to end abortion.
Restore to our society the common sense of traditional sexual ethics, where sex is enjoyed within the security of marriage, so that a child grows up with the benefit of having both father and mother. And in extraordinary circumstances, we pray special grace upon those who must raise children without the benefit of the two-parent traditional family. Help grandparents, foster parents, and all those who step up to fill in the gap as necessary.
We pray also for the thousands of volunteers and workers at our Crisis Pregnancy Centers who so selflessly give of themselves to care for newborns rescued from the threat of abortion. May we eagerly support those mothers (and fathers) who bravely ignore the tainted and tattered wisdom of this decadent world, and choose life. Call workers from our own congregation to be channels of blessing to them and to their newborns. May we put our muscle and money where our mouth is.
Now Lord, there is much prayer and work that needs to be done. May we not forget the urgency of our calling, but remind us daily that we serve your kingdom. We ask these things in the precious name of Jesus who loves the little children—all the children of the world. Amen.

Artwork by Sara C. Leonard 
https://www.facebook.com/mtleonesart/