Category Archives: Worship services

What’s the opposite of holy?

Q. What’s the opposite of light?

A. Darkness.

Q. What’s the opposite of male?

A. Female.

Q. What’s the opposite of Jew?

A. Gentile.

Q. What’s the opposite of holy?

A….

Go on. What do you say?

I expect the answer most of us instinctively give is “sinful”. That’s not a bad answer, but if that’s all we think, we’ll probably get ourselves into trouble. For example, that answer runs into trouble with the Sabbath. When God says: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Ex 20:8), God isn’t saying your Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays are sinful. Or when Paul calls them the “holy Scriptures” (2 Tim 3:15) he’s not saying all the other literature on your bookshelves is sinful. In both these uses of the word “holy”, the opposite isn’t “sin”, but “common”. The “holy” is something which has a special connection to God, in a way that the common doesn’t. The common is still good. We can still glorify God in the common things, but the holy things are sacred; they have a special quality, and a special status. The Sabbath day is holy time. The Bible is holy text.

Leviticus 10:10 told the priests: “You are to distinguish between the holy and the common”.

But this is a distinction which many Christians today have trouble with and could do with re-learning. We can think the “holy” is just an old covenant idea that has been cancelled by Christ. But this distinction pre-dates sin. In man’s innocence, there was a difference between the Sabbath and other days of the week, between the Garden of Eden and the rest of the earth, between the two trees in the midst of the Garden and all the other trees.  In God’s world, some things are common and other things are holy. Not everything is the same. So, it’s right when we come to church to realise something holy is going on. We should treat it differently to everything else in our week. We shouldn’t treat “the table of the Lord” (1 Cor 10:21) in the same way as our table (1 Cor 11:34). But that doesn’t mean our taxi-driving, or our cleaning, or parenting, or music-making are not areas of service to God. Realising that the opposite of holy isn’t sin, but the common, will help us glorify God in both areas of our lives, without confusing them.

 

 

Confession of sin – the fruit of the Spirit

Some of you have asked for the words for this confession of sin that we used recently in church. Here it is:

The fruit of the Spirit is love,

But we have loved darkness rather than light,

and loved you too little and ourselves too much.

 

The fruit of the Spirit is joy,

But we have been sour, and bitter,

and the joy of the LORD has been absent.

 

The fruit of the Spirit is peace,

But we have fretted and worried.

We have forgotten the finished work of Christ and doubted your fatherly care.

 

The fruit of the Spirit is patience,

But we have snapped at others, and questioned your wise timing.

 

The fruit of the Spirit is kindness,

But we have been harsh, cutting, and biting,

So unlike our Lord Jesus Christ, who prayed for his persecutors.

 

The fruit of the Spirit is goodness,

But we have often chosen the passing pleasures of sin, over your good laws.

 

The fruit of the Spirit is faithfulness,

But we have been unreliable; we have let others down, and not taken our baptismal vows and marriage vows seriously.

 

The fruit of the Spirit is gentleness,

But we have been unwilling to yield, and stiff-necked

 

The fruit of the Spirit is self-control,

But our wills have been weak, and our own sinful desires have got the better of us.

 

Lord, please show us your mercy.

Lord, have mercy on us

in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Nails or screws?

It wouldn’t surprise me if some of you inwardly groan when we sing a Psalm in our Sunday services. The tunes aren’t always gripping, and I doubt the words resonate quickly. In his great little book, “Singing the Songs of Jesus”, Michael Lefebvre uses a brilliant illustration to explain what’s probably happening when we feel like that:

“Nails are efficiently designed for what they do. With the forceful swing of a hammer, your nail will sink through one board and secure to the board behind.

Screws, likewise, are well designed for their purpose. Although similar to the nail in many ways, the screw has the added feature of spiralled thread running up its shaft, and a notched head. But the screw’s distinct design requires a distinct action. It must be turned into the surface with a screwdriver, not pounded like a nail. (Can you imagine the splintering mess which would result if a builder started hammering screws into two-by-fours?). For the screw to function at its best, it must be used according to its design.

The same is true of the Psalms. The ancient hymns of Israel (the Psalms) are as different from modern hymns as screws are from nails… the Psalms… lead us in a very different ‘method’ of praise than modern church songs…

To be specific: modern hymns are typically designed to prompt praise through declaration…

The Psalms are different, however. Although the Psalms are full of declarations of praise, they also include doubts, contradictions, problems, and expectations of judgment – all of which feel very awkward to sing if we sing the Psalms within the expectations of modern hymnody (rather like the awkwardness of driving screws with a hammer). But this is part of the distinct design of biblical hymns; and, it is a distinct design which calls for a distinct expectation and ‘heart activity’ as we sing them.

… it is my thesis… that in the Psalms, praise is the expected outcome, but meditation is the underlying activity which we undertake in Psalm singing. Unlike modern church songs which are primarily about ‘getting right to the point’ and declaring praise, the Psalms are designed to help people who don’t always feel like praising begin by meditating on the mess the world is in, and only through a full and robust process of meditation, to come out with praise”. (p.95-97).

So, if you sigh when we sing the psalms, it could be that you’re trying to hammer a screw, when you should be using a screwdriver. The heart action you need to sing Psalm 71 is different to “In Christ alone”. By calling us to sing the psalms (Eph 5:19), God is reminding us that true worship is much more active than passive; this kind of heart work is hard work. Like different equipment in the gym, God is exercising different spiritual muscles when we sing psalms.  If you want help to meditate on the Psalms properly, the book by Michael Lefebvre really is excellent.

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