What you want at church

Here’s a quote I read a while ago, but that I find helpful to keep reminding myself of. It’s by Flannery O’Connor, who was an American novelist. She said:

“In education, tastes are not to be consulted; they are to be formed”.

O’Connor was thinking of the classroom when she said this. Her point was that teachers are unwise to simply give children what they want, because what they want is exactly one of the things that needs educating! If teachers gave children what they already liked, almost every classroom in the country would be filled with children watching TV and playing computer games. No, the aim of the teacher is to teach her students to like new things, things they didn’t know they’d like.

What’s true in the classroom is also true in church. The church’s job is not to give people what they already want. It’s not to carry out a survey and run things in the most popular way. The church’s job is to teach people God’s ways, which often don’t line up with our own. See Acts 14:13-15 for a good example of this. It’s exactly when the church refuses to give us what we want, that we’ll start to learn how satisfying God is, and how glorious Jesus Christ, his Son is.

This means as you come to worship God at church, even when you don’t “like” it – maybe, especially when you don’t “like” it – remember,  God is at work, teaching you new wants, which are much more satisfying than your old ones. “In education, tastes are not to be consulted; they are to be formed”.

Sing up!

Do you like music? Funnily, today, we’re surrounded by music; everyone’s got headphones in and their own personal playlist. But our relationship to music and singing is more likely to be as a consumer than a producer. Many of us have probably been to weddings of unbelievers, where no one sings the songs. Or we’ve watched athletes or sportsmen awkwardly sing their national anthems. Singing today is mainly an activity to watch and listen to, rather than participate in. People a hundred years ago would think it very strange that when we say “play music” today, we mean press a button.

In this day and age, one of most important things you can do on Sunday is to sing. The Bible treats singing as a command; It’s your Christian duty. “Shout for joy to God… Sing the glory of his name!” (Psalm 66:1-2). Open those lungs. Let it go! Bellow! If doing that makes you feel uncomfortable or awkward, let me encourage you to keep working at it!

Why? Because there’s something about singing to God in worship that combines our hearts, minds, souls and strength in a unique way. We’re told to love the LORD with all our heart and soul and mind and strength (Mark 12:33), and in the act of singing our minds are engaged, our hearts are stirred, our physical strength is exerted, and the deepest parts of our soul are reached. Singing well isn’t about hitting the right notes (though it helps!), but about throwing yourself in to the act out of love for God. Saved sinners make the best singers!

I’d love us to be a church, where what strikes people isn’t the quality of the music, but our desire to sing up and sing out.

Once or Twice?

At All Nations, we deliberately have two services on Sundays – a morning service at 10.30am and an afternoon service at 4.30pm. These services aren’t for two different congregations (like a shop, extending its opening hours to get more business!). They are for us as a church to worship God twice together (like a family eating two meals together, rather than one).

Maybe the idea of going to two services on a Sunday is new or a bit unusual to you:

– “Why would I do that?”
– “I’m going to feel tired when I get there”
– “The children won’t be able to cope”
– “I don’t have time for that”

 

Well, this is why we do it: going to church twice on a Sunday helps us use Sundays in the way God intends, better than one (see Exodus 20:8-11); it helps us maximise the day. As your minister, I am confident that you will grow more spiritually as an individual, as a family, and as a church, if you commit to come to church twice rather than once.

Now, I can sympathise with the second and third reactions above (though, not the fourth). At times, coming to church twice on Sundays can feel inconvenient. It can mean saying “no” to children’s birthday parties. It can mean less free time on Saturdays, because you’re getting your “work” done then. It can require all kinds of readjustments, and children aren’t usually on their best behaviour at 5pm! But when something really matters, we’re happy to put ourselves out and our families out. War forces soldiers to show discipline. The incentive of a gold medal drives Olympic athletes to train hard. The prospect of a good-harvest helps hard-working farmers handle inconvenience (see 2 Tim 2:3-7). Well, we’re living for Christ’s eternal kingdom, aren’t we?  What we do with our Sundays is a very practical way of showing what our priority is to a watching world, ourselves, and our children.

I’d love us as a church to get the most we can out of Sundays.

Here’s a link to a helpful article about one lady’s experience of deciding to come to church twice:

http://www.reformation21.org/blog/2017/08/the-blessing-of-sunday-evening.php

The Westminster Shorter Catechism – a recommendation

I highly recommend this little book. It’s a true Christian classic. It was written by a group of English and Scottish ministers in London during the English Civil War in the 1640s. I don’t know what you would choose to write about when a war was on, but these men wrote 107 questions and answers about God and our relationship with him, all in under 50 pages.

The Bible says: “In your thinking, be mature” (1 Cor 14:20). How are you going to do that? Well, this booklet is one of the best things I can recommend to help you.

I like to think of the catechism as a training programme for the Christian mind. If you go to the gym, you need to have a plan, and you need to follow that plan if you want positive results. If you just rely on the spur of the moment, you’re not going to lift the hard weights, or push yourself to run hard; you won’t keep it up, and you’ll stay flabby. In the same way, our Christian minds need exercise to help us grow strong and think God’s ways not our ways. I think the best way to use this catechism is as your training programme. That means it’s not an “easy” read, to relax with on the beach; you can’t skim read it and get the benefits, anymore than five minutes at the gym is going to help build your biceps.

No, this is a book to keep coming back to. It’s a book to read slowly and carefully and thoughtfully. Read through it again and again. Look up words you don’t understand in a dictionary. Look up the Bible verses and think about how they prove the answer. Ask questions. Ask me at church why it answers things in that particular way. Use it to direct your prayers sometimes. Take a question and thank God for the Bible truths unpacked in the answer. You can even try and memorise some of your favourite questions and answers. If you use the catechism like that, it will do wonders for your Christian mind.

A lot of Christian books published today you can skim through and you may learn one or two interesting things. But this booklet is different. It’s one to keep nearby your Bible. My copy has been my companion for years now, and is grubby, held together with tape, and covered with coffee stains. It’s given backbone and fibre to my Christian mind and thousands upon thousands of others. “In your thinking, be mature” (1 Cor 14:20).