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Worship

My family and I have watched ABC’s The Middle since it began its first season. Because we’re normally occupied with other things on Wednesday Nights, we set our DVR and watched it later. This Fall, for its ninth and final season, The Middle was moved to Tuesday Nights; we still DVR the show to watch later. And I may keep this week’s episode for posterity’s sake. Yes, it was that good!

TheMiddleFinalSeason400wIf you’ve never watched The Middle, you have missed out on some funny programming. ABC’s description of the show is, “Forget about athletes, movie stars and politicians. Parents are the real heroes—but we think Frankie Heck, must be some kind of superhero. A loving wife and mother of three, she’s middle class in the middle of the country and is rapidly approaching middle age.” Thus, it’s called “The Middle”.

In the December 12th episode (Episode 10, The Christmas Miracle), Axl, the recent college graduate and oldest child in the family tells his mother that we won’t be going to church with the family on Christmas Eve. He doesn’t see a valid reason for going. As Axl’s family members learn of his disinterest, they express their thoughts of why they go to church. Mike, Axl’s dad says that he’s not one to ask; he’s not very sure of his own faith commitment. His mother, Frankie, searches for her reasons, and settles on the subjective, pleasant feelings she gets when she goes to church. After Axl’s sister, Sue can’t fathom the idea that someone in her family could possibly struggle with their faith.

Many of us experienced a kind of “crisis of belief”, normally around the time Axl does. We wonder what’s the point of maintaining our family’s faith traditions. I see this as a very healthy thing because if we are going to grow in our faith (2Peter 3:18), we must “own” it for ourselves. The faith of our dad, mom, and grandparents is insufficient for eternity, as well as for right now. It’s in these “crisis of belief” times we think that church and the Bible are boring. We don’t see the point of continuing in the Christian faith because we don’t see how it has made a difference in anyone’s life. We don’t see church, faith, the Bible as being… relevant.

Over the past couple of weeks, many of our members have talked about how our adult children – whom we faithfully took to church every Sunday, and tried to instill the value of going – don’t attend church anymore. We invite them, but they seem to have other commitments with their kids’ soccer games, going out to the deer lease, or just sleeping in. Each Sunday, on our way to church, we drive past many homes with all the cars in the driveway. Axl Heck’s feelings are voiced by many former church-attenders and never-attenders alike.

A couple of weeks ago I said that people don’t go to church because they don’t see any reason to go. They see the whole “church thing” as boring. They don’t understand anything in the Bible (assuming they ever pick up… and assuming they have a translation they can understand). They think the church is full of hypocrites. They don’t like the music. They think that everybody’s beliefs are equally valid. They think that all religions basically teach the same thing. They feel they were dragged to church as children and have no interest now that they can make their own decisions, they decide to not go. They think all we ever talk about is money.

Yes, I think “relevance” is the right word for the times. “They” don’t see the relevance. And if we’re honest, we don’t see the relevance either!

Several of our members – who have been believers for decades – have recently told me that 2017 marks the first time they have ever read the entire New Testament. One told me that he’s never read the entire Old Testament, and for most of his Christian life, he has memorized very few verses of the Bible. From other conversations I have had, I can sadly say that his experience is typical of many of our members – and it’s typical of most people who call themselves, “Christians”!

Whether or not we want to admit it, based on our priorities as we live them out, we don’t see the Bible, prayer, Scripture memory, fellowshipping with other Believers, and evangelism/discipleship as being relevant! At all! Sure, we can say we do, but we really don’t. I say these things, not to judge, but to simply state the facts.

Whether or not we realize it, Axl Heck’s question is our question. Why go to church? Why read my Bible? What differences do any of these things make in the early Twenty-first Century?

These are good questions. Questions that I look forward to following up on in the coming days.

Pastor Craig

 

I was privileged to take part in a meeting today that many from my first pastorate will find very good. First, a little background.

 

Like many Baptist Churches, Bethel Baptist Church formed as a split from another church. After meeting at several locations in Weatherford, the church body obtained property just off FM920 northwest of downtown Weatherford in the late 1970s. Several men served as pastor of the church as the attendance numbers ebbed and flowed.

 

In late June/early July 2007, I received a call from the deacon chairman asking if I was available to preach on the following Sunday. The one-week invitation turned into an interim position which turned into my first pastorate which lasted just over six years. We had good days and we had bad days. Although our numbers were shrinking, our depth was growing.

 

In October 2013, we knew that we could no longer to afford to keep the doors open and it was clear that God was leading us to close the doors. Our bylaws stated that the building and property would be given to the Parker Baptist Association, so after removing my library and other personal items, we handed over the keys to my long-time friend and fellow seminary student, John Thielepape, the Director of Missions of Parker Baptist Association. During our last meeting, some members voiced fears that the Association would quickly dispose of the property, putting to death the legacy of our church. But I knew it would be OK. I reiterated that God was leading us to do this and that I trusted John and the members of the Association’s Executive Board.

 

A few months later, God opened doors (literally) for ministry to continue at the property. Among other ministries, MercyHeart, a ministry founded by a friend of mine began ministering to the Parker County families of inmates on Tuesday Nights. A local church had sold its property to developers and the new building wasn’t ready to move into, so they began to meet on Sundays and Wednesdays, bringing their air conditioners to replace Bethel’s broken units.

 

Ministry continued.

 

After serving in several interim pastorates in Parker and Wise Counties, this past July I was called to be the pastor of Fellowship Baptist Church, five miles north of Weatherford. Yesterday, John (back from a sabbatical) called to welcome me back to the Association and to tell me of the meeting this morning. The meeting would consider the proposal to enter a lease-to-purchase agreement with a young church. A related proposal would take proceeds from the lease payments to designate for funds for church planting and missions. John said he’d like for me to be there.

 

Today’s special Called Meeting of the Association’s Executive Board required 20 attendees to form the Quorum. I was the last person to walk into the meeting and signed the attendance sheet in the twentieth position. We had a quorum. Both proposals passed unanimously.

 

I must give a big shout-out to the Parker Baptist Association Executive Board and its Director of Missions, my friend John for their wise stewardship of the property and their vision of extending the ministry on the property.

 

Those who feared the worst in closing the doors of our church should feel a great peace because God continues to use our former church building to do ministry and extend His Kingdom. And that’s a really good thing! God is good!

 

Please join me in praying for Pastor Joel Kindberg and Grace Covenant Church as they begin ministering to the people of Weatherford from their new address at 201 Kathey Street in Weatherford. MercyHeart will continue their ministry alongside Grace.

 

How would you describe your spiritual growth? How do you measure it? How does it compare with last year?

Do you want to change it for the better? Join me as we read the Bible in 2016!

Thinking about reading through the Bible in a year may seem a little overwhelming. But it shouldn’t be. It’s simple to do, but it isn’t necessarily easy.

If you want to read through the entire Bible in a year, you will only read 4-5 chapters a day, every day. If you want to read through the New Testament, you can do it by reading just one chapter a day, five days a week. Last year a friend of mine simply looked at the number of pages in his Bible and divided it by 365 and came up with just under three pages a day every day. Like I said, it’s simple!

But where do you start? Just start at the beginning? For your first attempt, I would recommend one of many Bible reading plans out there. I have included two that you can download from my website: Discipleship Journal’s Book at a Time Bible Reading Plan and The Navigators’ 5-5-5 Bible Reading Plan (New Testament only). Just print out the plan and keep it with your Bible, marking off each day’s readings.

My favorite plans have been the Navigators’ 5-5-5 New Testament plan and a chronological plan by George Guthrie available through the fine people at Bible.com.

Any plan is better than no plan! So print one of these and follow along, or sign up online with Bible.com. You can even use their Bible App (available for many devices) to guide you through each day’s readings.

Let’s do this!

A friend asked me on Facebook to comment on an article, “Let’s Stop Singing These 10 Worship Songs“. Here’s my response.

Setting words to music has always been an appropriate way that God’s people have worshiped Him and “testified” of Him. In contrast to what “non-instrumental” church leaders say, the Bible (especially Psalms) does an excellent job of including every known way and every known musical instrument to praise God. Paul links the results of singing of “Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” with both “being filled with the Spirit” (Eph 5:18-19) and “letting the Word of Christ dwell in us” (Col 3:16).

Several decades ago, the Christian band “Glad” presented “Variations on a Hymn” that brought out how people have used contemporary music of the day (whatever the generation) to sing their words of worship and testimony.

I believe that music without lyrics cannot *adequately* express the heart cry of worship. But unless we’re setting Scripture to music, we run the risk of inaccurately expressing the heart cry of worship. And there’s the rub.

As one of my seminary professors pointed out oftentimes worship songs express words of deep intimacy. Terms of endearment sometimes come across as uncomfortable-sounding to people who are not as used to such word pictures. And that’s unfortunate. The result is that a “preference issue” is presented as a “Biblical issue”

There are many traditional hymns as well as modern “praise and worship” songs that express deep and rich theology. And there are some traditional hymns and modern songs that express bad theology as well. One “traditional” song that comes to mind is “Love Lifted Me”. Not only is it a bad mix of a happy-sounding melody with a discussion of the unhappy topic of sin, the first verse is just plain wrong! I wasn’t simply “sinking deep in sin, far from the peaceful shore, very deeply stained with sin, sinking to rise no more”. The Bible tells me that I was dead and at the bottom of the ocean of sin with absolutely no hope of life. I was not only “deeply stained with sin”; I totally and radically corrupted by it.

The article my friend linked to points out some of the issues with modern songs. I felt the writer was not just a little nit-picky in her critique. As an example, she says “Lord I Lift Your Name on High” presents only a “small fraction of the fullness of the gospel story”. I honestly wonder how she would attempt to present “the fullness of the gospel story” in any single song, sermon, or book. In looking at her bio and a list of her website’s other articles, I would tend to classify the website as belonging to someone on a witch hunt, a website more inclined to criticize than edify. Unfortunately, “preference” issues are presented as “Biblical” issues.

Bob Kauflin, one of the original members of the Christian band Glad, has written some really good articles on worship and music. His website is Worship Matters. I recommend reading his insights on the issue.

So, what do you think?