It's hard to believe but Sunday finally arrived. It was a day full of hugs, kisses, laughter and tears.
It's Saturday of my final week as pastor at Bethany Church. If you know the days of your week you know that I have to preach my final sermon in one day. I think I'm ready.
The lone prophet Elijah challenged King Ahab and 450 prophets of the god Baal and the base of this mountain.Elijah challenged them to a contest. Each would build an altar to their own god, Elijah to the one true God and the 450 prophets to Baal.
The 450 prophets went first. They slaughtered a bull, placed it on the altar and prayed to Baal to send fire. They danced, they sang, they shouted, they cut themselves with knives and spears. They did this all day. Nothing happened.Then it was Elijah’s turn. Here’s what 1 Kings says happened:
30 Then Elijah called to the people, "Come over here!" They all crowded around him as he repaired the altar of the LORD that had been torn down. 31 He took twelve stones, one to represent each of the tribes of Israel, 32 and he used the stones to rebuild the LORD's altar. Then he dug a trench around the altar large enough to hold about three gallons. 33 He piled wood on the altar, cut the bull into pieces, and laid the pieces on the wood. Then he said, "Fill four large jars with water, and pour the water over the offering and the wood." After they had done this, 34 he said, "Do the same thing again!" And when they were finished, he said, "Now do it a third time!" So they did as he said, 35 and the water ran around the altar and even overflowed the trench. 36 At the customary time for offering the evening sacrifice, Elijah the prophet walked up to the altar and prayed, "O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, prove today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant. Prove that I have done all this at your command. 37 O LORD, answer me! Answer me so these people will know that you, O LORD, are God and that you have brought them back to yourself." 38 Immediately the fire of the LORD flashed down from heaven and burned up the young bull, the wood, the stones, and the dust. It even licked up all the water in the ditch! 39 And when the people saw it, they fell on their faces and cried out, "The LORD is God! The LORD is God!" 1 Kings 18:30-39
Church on top of Mount Carmel
Perhaps you need to rejuvenate your faith. Maybe you lost your faith and you want to find it again. Where have you been looking? Are you dancing around all the options? Where are you placing your faith?
I encourage you to stop dancing around your problems. Stop cutting yourself with the dagger of doubt and drop the spear of a wavering faith. Place your fears upon the altar. Call upon the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and may His Holy Spirit come down on you like fire and burn away every doubt and fear so there is nothing left but His presence.
May you filled with the fire of His Spirit today.
I visited a mega church when I lived in southern California. I don’t want to tell you the name but it rhymes with Baddleback. During the worship a couple sang a duet. It rocked! I felt like I was at a Broadway musical. (Actually, I’ve never been to a Broadway musical but if I ever am, I hope the quality is as good as what I heard that day.)
I’ve been to plenty of other churches since then. I often hear music that is just fabulous; guitars, drums, keyboards, tambourines, flutes, piano, singers…. My home church had an electric violin for a season. What a beautiful sound!
I’ve been to other churches with not so great music. I’ve mentioned the above instruments to them. “Oh, we don’t do that here. We don’t want to turn worship into entertainment.” Substitute, “Oh, we don’t want to sound too good. People might think its entertainment and not worship.”
It drives me mad that there seems to be this belief in some churches that the value of worship goes down when the quality of music goes up. This leads to the unofficial credo many churches have regarding worship and quality: they must remain separate.
We value entertainment that has quality. Bad TV shows get cancelled and shows that are good get picked up another season. (I know this isn’t an airtight argument. I’m still lamenting that NBC dropped Life and Friday Night Lights deserves a full season every year, but I digress.)
But Mad Pastor, this is worship we’re talking about, not entertainment, we can’t confuse the two!
I’m not confused. The reality is worship is entertainment. The purpose of worship is to entertain God. To bring him glory. To bring him our best. To put a smile on his face. To remind him that he is the most important thing in our life. We gather on Sunday to entertain God.
I do not believe in the separation of church and quality. I think the church should be the place where we bring our best to God. Our best song, our best behavior, our best attempt at entertaining him. Why should we go before the God of all creation, the one who designed music itself, and not bring him our best? Why do we think that the best should be reserved for the “entertainment industry” and the rest be given to God? (Should I be concerned about being too good of a preacher? Maybe I should make sure my sermons aren’t too entertaining?)
Worship ceases when we think the service is put together for us. When we praise the singer we are worshiping the singer and we are thanking him/her for entertaining us. But when we praise the One who gave us the gift of singing, we are worshiping God. It’s our job during services to focus on the right thing, it’s my job as a pastor to keep us aware of that.
What do you think? Should churches hold back on the quality of their services for fear that it won’t honor God? At what point has a church crossed the line between worship and a talent competition?
It's either Jesus
or a squirrel
So I ended last week with my favorite church joke. You can read it here. I also said I would tell you later why I love it. Well, it’s later.
I love that joke but it also drives me mad. I love that joke because it quite accurately represents what I’ve seen take place in churches every Sunday. That same joke drives me mad because it quite accurately represents what I’ve seen take place in churches every Sunday.
Imagine if you went to school and the answer to every test question was the same? We’d all graduate with honors. (However, I am forced to believe that even some people would miss the boat and have to take summer school.) But even though the rest of us would all be graduates, we wouldn’t be very smart because we’d only know one thing. And quite frankly, knowing one word isn’t a skill that will take you a lot of places. Not even the “magic word” can get you through life.
When a child assumes the answer to every question in Sunday school is “Jesus” or “God,” we’ve done something wrong. He/she hasn’t learned anything. They’ve only learned to say “Jesus” or “God.”
Think about the joke. That pastor is describing something small, brown and furry with a bushy tail that climbs trees and hides nuts and a little girl thinks the answer is Jesus! Aaaarrrrghghh!
When Sunday school started back in the late 1700’s it was to educate children who otherwise would not know how to read or write. The Church did a wonderful job of helping out society by providing a real education. The Bible was used as the text book so not only did children learn to read and write, they did so by reading the Bible and memorizing Scripture. They practiced their grammar skills by writing Bible verses. With the advent of public school systems, the Church was no longer needed to provide those skills. (Click here for a nice little article about the history of Sunday school.) Now we’re left with what we continue to call Sunday school but is very different from what it started out to be.
Since most kids today learn how to read and write in some kind of school, be it public, private or home, what is Sunday school being used for at churches; a place to “tend” to our children for an hour a week or a place to grow and develop a child’s mind and spirit? Of course, many churches have a great education system to stimulate young children’s minds and promote their spiritual growth. But I have to admit, based on my experience growing up, my guess is there are more churches than not that unintentionally teach that Jesus has a tail and climbs trees.
Call me crazy, but shouldn’t churches be taking advantage of what schools are doing? Shouldn’t kids be reading and writing about Jesus and other Biblical stories? Would it be wrong for churches to hand out homework assignments, have quizzes and a graduation system? Couldn’t those Sunday school graduates become qualified Sunday school teachers or other leaders in the Church?
Do you think the Jesus/squirrel joke reflects the majority of churches today or am I the one who is nuts? Whatever your thoughts, share ‘em and tell me why.
You've heard of bring a friend to church day. You've heard of bring a side dish to church day. But have you ever heard of bring a gun to church day? Well now you can!
The Rev. Jonathon Wilkins believes members of his church should be able to carry guns to worship in order to protect the congregation. Churches have been targets of crime ranging from cars being broken into and even shootings. In 2007 a gunman killed 4 people during a shooting spree at a mega church in Colorado. See story here. It was an armed security guard who shot and killed the suspect and saved many lives in the process.
So, should congregants have the right to carry guns to church? Should they carry their guns to church? Should they shoot them in the air instead of shouting, "Amen"? And should I worry about the next time I say something in a sermon when someone packing heat disagrees with me?
See story on Rev. Wilkins here.
As a preacher myself I like to listen to other sermons. Get a load of this one.
I think it’s safe to say I’m a little less animated than this gentleman. Am I mad, or is the Gospel the same whether we whisper it or shout it?
Is this kind of preaching effective? What would you do if you were invited by a friend to church and this was the message? Share a serious reaction and a funny one.
It’s Sunday night. You and your friends want to hang out together. Do you go get a drink together? Do you go to a Sunday night service? How about a Sunday night church service in a bar? It’s happening more than you think. Churches like Connect Rome City Church in Rome, GA www.churchinabar.com and North Brooklyn Vineyard in Williamsburg Brooklyn, www.norbrooklynvineyard.org have services that meet in bars.
It sounds a little crazy, singing worship songs in a place where people normally sing bar tunes. But shouldn’t the Church do everything possible (within reason) to reach people for Christ? Or should bars be off limits? Should God’s Word only be preached in a building with stained glass and pews?
The idea they say is to take the church to the people instead of waiting for the people to come to the church. Is this a good idea? Or are these congregations becoming too much like the world?
I had lunch with a group of pastors a few weeks ago. One was troubled and shared his concerns regarding another church. It seems this church's pastor quit and the congregation hired their youth director to replace him. The youth pastor made a lot of changes. One of which really seemed to concern my friend. What were the changes?
The new, young pastor rearranged the stage area of the sanctuary. That wasn't the problem. He brought in new instruments and musicians. That wasn't the problem. The church was experiencing a growth spurt and new people were attending. That wasn't the problem. So what was the problem?
What is the church going to do if this guy quits? That's the problem!
Are you serious!? I just about passed out. The church is growing, people are coming. But we're not focused on the growth and the good work that the Holy Spirit is doing, we're focused on the time when the new pastor leaves. I suggested that if in case their new pastor moves on, the church should begin a search for a pastor of similar gifts and skills to carry out the new vision. I was told that I was simplifying it.
Why are we focused on what can go wrong? Why are we afraid of success in the church? I almost suggested it would be better off for the church to hire someone without passion, drive or talent. That way the church wouldn't grow at all and there would be not problem replacing him or her when they leave.
I think the church should work very hard at bringing their best for God. That means excellence in worship, music, education, the way the building looks, and the quality of staff. We are worshiping and representing God. Have I gone mad or should we not always give God our best?