Church Eliminates Congregational Singing by Removing Screen

SPRINGTON, WI – Matt Johnson, worship leader at Hope Fellowship, recently decided to dispense with the screen customarily used to display song lyrics. He calls this step the logical conclusion of a process begun several decades ago.

“We really want to focus on the praise team, you know?” he explains. “Removing hymnals was our first step, naturally, because even non-musicians can follow a tune if they have music in front of them. Without it, congregations really had to listen to the people singing on stage.

“But still, people tried to follow along. There was usually a delay, of course, but a lot of people in the pews were singing.”

Johnson has responded by making sure to choose new songs each week, and notes that many members of the congregation now just stand there looking uncomfortable.

“But some of them still try to sing,” he says. “We finally realized that, if they don’t even have the words, they won’t feel like they have to participate, and we’ll really be able to focus on the performance.”

All regular praise team members are enthusiastic about the planned change. Says one singer, “Going forward, our only potential concern is more people wanting to join us on stage.”

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Knowing and Being Known: How Our Conversations Can Strengthen the Body of Christ

A wise, wonderful lady in my church, when leading Sunday School, has a thing she says when asking for prayer requests.

“Right now, I don’t want to hear about your uncle’s broken leg or your neighbor’s friend who needs a job. Not that I don’t care about those people, or that you shouldn’t be praying for them! — but I want to know how we can pray for you. We are all carrying burdens, friends; let’s bear them together.”

For this, and for many other reasons, I love her.

• • • • • • • • •

Introverts such as myself notoriously despise small talk. We’re terrible at it, and attempting it quickly drains us of our energy, our brain cells, and eventually our will to live — but more importantly, it feels pointless: dithering on endlessly about forgettable topics when life, and people, are so much more beautiful and fascinating than what kind of carpet we’re installing in our new homes or when we’re taking our next vacation.

“But it’s necessary,” people say. “It’s part of getting to know somebody, so it’s just a skill we all need to develop.” Well, I’ve already said once that that’s baloney, and in the intervening years, nobody has proven me wrong. Some people excel at it, and even seem to enjoy it (!), but for those of us who handle small talk as deftly as a chicken trying to play piano, it simply doesn’t work.

Here’s the truth — for those of us who struggle with ice-breaking and for those who never saw a social situation they couldn’t handle: every one of us wants to be known. Moreover, every one of us bears burdens that usually lurk, hidden, behind our casual conversations and our affirmations that oh yes, things are pretty good. I’m increasingly convinced that these surface-level interactions aren’t just awkward and boring (though they certainly ARE those things); they are a disservice to those we talk to — a missed opportunity to truly meet people where they are and start to really know them. In “The Weight of Glory,” C. S. Lewis describes the sacred responsibility we each have as we mingle with the people God places in our paths:

The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it…It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.

It might border on the ridiculous to suggest that, in the spirit of taking Lewis’s words to heart, we start asking cashiers, while we’re paying for our groceries, what keeps them awake at night…or querying about the secret emotional wounds of the guests at our nephews’ and nieces’ birthday parties…or asking people in elevators about their most cherished dreams. That would be exhausting, and a little creepy. But I don’t think it’s at all ridiculous to suggest that, when amongst people we see often, or have known for a while, we try to go a little deeper.

My wise, wonderful friend understands, when she urges us to be transparent with one another, that members of the body of Christ should not try to function in isolation; that, as Paul says, “if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; [and] if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26). We are not meant to carry our burdens alone…or to leave others to carry their burdens alone.

When you encourage a brother or sister in the Lord; when you learn how you can lighten that person’s load; when you simply engage in a conversation wherein you find out what kind of thoughts occupy his or her mind — you are helping to strengthen the living, breathing body of Christ.

When you do the same for somebody who doesn’t know the Lord? You give that person a glimpse of what Jesus’ love is like.

Imagine how beautiful it would be if each of us internalized the message of 1 Corinthians 12 — if somebody is suffering, then it affects all of us, whether we realize it or not — and took seriously the oft-repeated instruction to bear one another’s burdens. Instead of small talk, and prayer time that leaves us feeling disconnected and isolated, we would come away from times of fellowship with an awakened sensitivity to the deep needs of our brothers and sisters in Christ, and a renewed commitment to bringing their cares before our great and loving God.

While We Were Still Weak

As they were reclining at the table and eating, Jesus said, “Truly I say to you that one of you will betray me — one who is eating with Me.” They began to be grieved and say to Him one by one, “Surely not I?” – Mark 14:17-18

And Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away…” …But Peter kept saying insistently, “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!” And they were all saying the same thing also. – Mark 14:27, 31

They came to a place called Gethsemane; and He said to His disciples, “Sit here until I have prayed.” …And He came and found them sleeping…. – Mark 14:32, 37

They laid hands on Him and seized Him…and [the disciples] all left Him and fled. – Mark 14:46, 50

The night before Jesus’ crucifixion reveals many of mankind’s weaknesses, but perhaps the one connecting them all, the undercurrent flowing from one weakness into another, is our fickleness.

First we see the grief and indignation in the disciples’ response to Jesus’ prediction of betrayal…”surely not I?”

Then, brash confidence…”I will not deny You!”

Next, frailty leading to self-indulgence…He came and found them sleeping.

Finally, fear and self-preservation…they all left Him and fled.

Looking into these verses, I see a vivid, uncomfortable reflection of myself. My emotions dictate my daily choices so much more than I like to admit — and my emotions vary so much in the course of a day. The amount of time I spent in quiet prayer and Bible reading; my diligence in accomplishing the tasks that will serve my family; the level of attention I give to my children when they’re telling me a joke for the dozenth time that day: all this and beyond comes much more from how I feel than from what I know to be right. If salvation depended on me, I would be on shaky ground indeed.

Today, as I approach the foot of the Cross, I am mindful of my deep need for Jesus. For the One who experienced human emotions — “My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death” (Mk. 14:34) — but who refused to be ruled by them: “….remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will” (Mk. 14:36, emphasis mine).

Let us never fool ourselves into thinking that we can earn salvation; that we’re “good enough”; that Jesus’ teachings were useful, but His death was merely a good example of suffering in silence. Without Him, we are hopelessly lost; but with Him, we are held by One infinitely stronger than we could ever hope to be.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person — though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die — but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8)

 

 

 

 

Putting Words in God’s Mouth

Our world is becoming an increasingly scary place in which to live.

In 1999, the world was shocked and grieved when two students gunned down thirteen of their peers in Columbine, Colorado; nobody would have thought then that the phrase “another mass shooting” would, over the next 19 years, become part of our lexicon. By now, though, we have a routine: hear about a shooting, grieve briefly, then immediately release meme after meme pithily laying blame on the idiots who could have prevented it.

Among all the memes I’ve seen floating around online on the heels of the Florida shooting, one grabbed my attention and grieved me tremendously. Perhaps you’ve seen it:

At best, persuasive memes entertain but do little (if anything) to promote civil conversation. At worst, they promote strife and cause great harm. This one, I believe, can do nothing but harm.

First: God has made it abundantly clear that we are not to add to His Word. Although this is only a T-shirt and not a Bible, the designer obviously felt qualified to presume what God would say if questioned by this “concerned student” and to share this message with the world. Even if we could assume that this is truly what God would say if He chose to speak audibly, we would still be in the wrong by spreading it as confidently as if it were straight from His Word.

Second: Would God truly respond in this way if questioned? Would He want US to do so? Consider 1 Peter 3:15: “…but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.”

People are looking at the evil in the world and wondering: Why does anybody have hope? How can God allow such suffering? These are huge questions, huger than I can tackle in today’s blog post, but they are worthy of more than just a sarcastic, dismissive retort. They merit gentleness, respect, and the compassion that God feels when He sees the brokenness of the world — a world He loved so much that He sent His own Son to save it.

Third, and last for today: What kind of theology are we perpetrating if we suggest that these hundreds of deaths have occurred because God abandons those who abandon Him? As a Christian, could I look in the eyes of a parent whose child was just tragically torn away and say, “Well, if prayer were still allowed in schools, your kid would still be alive”? A thousand times, no! The school system may squelch religion, but a classroom consists of individual souls, and God sees and knows intimately each and every one.

Furthermore, the Bible makes it clear — and church history bears it out — that those who follow Christ are not immune to suffering. We need only look back at the church shooting in Texas, or the one-room schoolhouse shooting in Lancaster County, to see that evil befalls those who follow Jesus as well as those who want nothing to do with Him.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Fellow Christ-followers, we have so much more to offer the world than sarcasm, curtness, and victim-blaming. If Jesus is the only one who can truly heal our broken world, one soul at a time — and we know He is! — then we have a sacred responsibility. Let us look at those who hurt through His eyes…and gently show them how much He loves them.

Searching for Significance: When It’s Time to Stop

Being a writer is just the worst.

Think I’m kidding? Okay, maybe I am exaggerating. Certainly I’m making a blanket generalization based on my own very limited experience. But I do mean it, at least sometimes, at least for myself.

The thing is, most people with a passion for writing have been inspired by the work of others. Whether it be Jane Austen, C.S. Lewis, John Steinbeck, J.K. Rowling, or one of scores of others, authors show us the power of the written word and ignite a passion within us to harness that same power — to entertain, to persuade, to inspire. Fueled by that passion, we set out to follow in their footsteps.

Most of us soon find that becoming a household name is out of our reach. WAY out of our reach. We trudge stolidly along, putting heartfelt words out there, getting a few readers, and we wonder: Should I be doing something else? Honestly, if only a few dozen people will ever see and remark on my words, am I wasting my time? Does this matter?

Do matter?

Before I go on, let’s revisit my first statement for a minute; after all, this is not a post about writing (believe it or not). What it should say is:

Trying to do anything influential is just the worst.

In truth, all of us seek significance in some way, and many of us, I believe, wish we could have tangible confirmation that what we are doing is important. For instance…

  • The pastor of a small congregation whose eyes are constantly on bigger churches and John Piper-like recognition.
  • The homeschooling mom who dreams of being the It Homeschooler like Sarah Mackenzie or Susan Wise Bauer so she can know she’s influencing more than just the small troop of little ones within her own home.
  • The baseball coach who knows, deep down, that he “could have made it big.”
  • The concertmaster of a local orchestra who secretly wonders: if it’s not the Philadelphia Orchestra, what’s the point?

Questions such as these haunt me in almost every aspect of my life. I know I’m not alone, because I’ve read approximately five hundred blog posts and articles about how we all have a purpose in life and each one of us is important in the eyes of God and He’s given us dreams for a reason. This is all true, and worthy of acceptance. HOWEVER…

A time comes at which we have to move past this. Why this constant need for reassurance? I am speaking very directly to myself here, and if anybody else has similar struggles, feel free to listen in — but be warned that the answer may hurt a little.

Pride.

I want people to recognize me. I want to know, through the affirmation of others, that I am important. I want people to know that I am accomplishing big things because, goshdarnit, people have heard of me. In other words: this striving for significance is, in the end, all about me.

Those are ugly confessions, but without acknowledging them, I will remain stuck. And when I’m wallowing in my pride, pining for more confirmation that I’m significant, I fail to properly love those who are in my circle of influence.

When friends comment on how much they were encouraged by one of my blog posts, it means God has used my words in somebody else’s life. What right do I have to say that’s not enough? Do those friends, then, not matter? That would be awful, and of course I think they matter…but my eventual dissatisfaction with my small sphere of influence indicates otherwise.

God has given me a desire to write, and the ability to do so with reasonable aptitude. If I squander His gift to me — or, using it, nonetheless feel constantly discontent and ungrateful because I compare myself with Ann Voskamp or Philip Yancey — I emulate the faithless servant of Matthew 25 who, upon receiving only one talent, buried it in the ground and went on to make excuses by criticizing the master who entrusted him with it.

Pride manifests itself in so many different forms, but its consequences are never pretty. My particular brand of pride leads to discouragement that I’m not getting hundreds of “views” for each blog post instead of gratitude for those who do regularly read and thoughtfully respond. It leads to halfhearted interactions with my children as I daydream about being something more. It means I crumble inside when I see that somebody else is a much more capable musician than I am.

Pride, as long as I cling to it, means that I fail to love and bless those in my small corner of the world…because I’m too preoccupied with my own importance to give myself fully to others.

Most of us who know Jesus and recognize the Imago Dei in ourselves don’t need more confirmation of our own value. We need to rest in our identity as loved children of God…thank Him for the gifts He’s given us (big or small)…and then use them faithfully — not for our own glory, but for His.

In Your Self-Control, Perseverance

It’s funny how God sometimes uses seemingly disparate elements of our lives to teach us something. Throughout the past week, various items from different aspects of my life lined up and seemed, mysteriously, to be pointing at the same thing.

A book about nutrition and exercise.

The prophet Haggai.

…and a homeschool physics lesson.

Confused yet? Let me back up a bit.

One of my new favorite things is audiobooks. A long car ride, a monster cleaning session with my kitchen, and a monotonous treadmill workout all go much more quickly when I have a book to enrich the time. My current listening material: Made to Crave, a book about learning to satisfy our desires with God instead of food, by Lysa TerKeurst.

While running and listening a few days ago, I was surprised to hear the author mention the book of Haggai. First, because it’s only about three pages long and therefore not exactly prominent (way to dig into the Word, Lysa!); second, because it’s the book I was about to read in preparation for my monthly Women’s Bible Study. What a coincidence! Here’s what she quoted, where the prophet is speaking in verses 1:2 and 1:3:

Thus says the Lord of hosts, “This people says, ‘The time has not come, even the time for the house of the Lord to be rebuilt.’ ”

…Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in paneled houses while this house lies desolate?

What is Haggai talking about? You see, after years of exile in Babylon, the Israelites had recently returned home, and God had stirred their hearts to rebuild the temple (Ezra 1:1,5). After an enthusiastic beginning, God’s people experienced some opposition, and the work halted…and sixteen years later, they hadn’t ever gotten back to it.

Sixteen years!?!

This is where the science lesson comes in.

Newton’s First Law of Motion states that an object at rest will remain at rest unless acted upon by an outside force; likewise, an object in motion will remain in motion unless — you got it — acted upon by an outside force. This proclivity towards continuing in one state or the other — briefly stated — is called inertia. As my children and I studied this the other day, conducting various experiments to illustrate it, I was once again awed by the way everything in the physical world seems designed to illustrate some deeper truth about life’s more intangible realities.

The Israelites began building because God’s prompting — the outside force — had set them in motion. For a time, they obeyed gladly, and the work moved forward. Then, however, another outside force — opposition from neighboring peoples — discouraged God’s people, and the progress stopped…and that was it.

Would they have eventually resumed their work if Haggai hadn’t delivered God’s message to them? As Aslan once told Lucy, “No one is ever told what would have happened“; however, if we consider human nature and the way inertia permeates our own lives, we can make a pretty good guess. Let’s be honest: for most of us, changing the course almost always feels like more effort than it’s worth. When the thought crosses our minds that perhaps we should take action, we silence that inner prompting by telling ourselves “the time has not come.” Especially if we are able to look back at good decisions we’ve made in the past, we don’t have much trouble soothing ourselves with promises that we’ll eventually take action…but for now, like the guy in this video clip, we’ve earned a reward and an indefinite break.

“I need to take better care of myself, but…I already had a doughnut today, so I might as well have this cake now.”

“I know I should spend less time on Facebook, but…things are so hard right now, I need an escape. Later, sure, but this isn’t a good time for me to limit something I enjoy.”

“I haven’t spent time alone reading the Bible recently, but…life has been so busy. I’ll get back to having devotions, but this really isn’t the season for it.”

Embracing inertia, I’ve realized, is always the easiest thing. The opposite of inertia? Taking action. Making the choice, again and again, to do the thing God is asking us to do.

Most of us can manage to eat a salad for lunch one day; to put down the smartphone for an afternoon; to pick up the Bible one morning. But making these choices in the face of setbacks? After a few setbacks? The apostle Peter provides some encouragement for those who desire to pursue godliness, but haven’t made the decision to correct their paths:

…His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.

…Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness.

(II Peter 1:3, 5-6, emphasis mine)

Self-control, as I often tell my kids, means stopping to think…then making the right choice when we feel like making the wrong one. For many of us, self-control looks like taking action when it’s more comfortable to remain at rest — or putting the brakes on an ongoing behavior or heart attitude that hinders a close walk with God.

Perseverance, then, means making a habit of choosing rightly — and, when we inevitably stumble, turning right around and making the right choice the next time.

Easy? No. But that’s why we rely, not on our own strength, but on the divine power God so graciously gives us. And by persevering, one day at a time, we will find that God Himself is the “outside force” who is infinitely more powerful than our inborn inertia.

 

 

Homeschooling and the Myth of the “Real World”

Homeschoolers encounter a lot of skeptics.

In choosing to reject the status quo, we accept the fact that we will face questions. Are you trained? How will your kids get into college? WHAT ABOUT SOCIALIZATION?!?

Even the most confident among us — even those who have solid answers for the above questions and more — can feel cowed when confronted with somebody who clearly finds us odd (and maybe even dangerous). And so it was that I recently found myself desperately trying to sound coherent (but not defensive), confident about my children’s prospects (but not critical of other educational choices) when a well-meaning person asked me:

“How are your children going to be prepared for the real world?”

My answer had something to do with how I get my kids out and about quite often, and the statistics about how well homeschoolers do in college, blah, blah, blah…but, as is so often the case, I spent days afterward mulling over the conversation and analyzing my response and basically wondering why I’m such a wimp. And here’s the question to which my mind kept returning:

What, exactly, IS the “real world”?

For the majority of American kids, the real world, for thirteen years, is public school.

For plenty of kids, though, it’s private school.

For an increasing number, it’s home education. (And, incidentally, you can bet that the children of most celebrities are in this group, though with a pricey private tutor instead of mom or dad).

The real world, however, is so much bigger than any of that.

This summer, our family participated in the Read the World Book Club. Each week, along with thousands of other families, we’ve learned about a different region of the world through reading picture books — fiction and nonfiction — from that part of the world. We’ve watched videos about the land and culture, and experimented with recipes from around the globe. Throughout the process, our children have come to understand the vastness of the world…and the smallness of our corner of it.

The truth is, everybody’s experience is limited. The “real world” consists of so much more than children experience in any educational setting. And the last thing I want to do is teach them that everybody is exactly like they are.

Photo by by sandeepachetan.com

I want them to know that many people in the real world don’t eat different food every day.

That many children in the real world don’t know how to read, and if somebody gives them the opportunity to learn, they will do anything to make it happen.

That throughout the real world, people live in deserts, mountains, and jungles. They live in huts, high-rise buildings, and tents. They travel by camel, by canoe, and on foot.

That there are many more ways of living life than we could ever grasp…and that every person who is living it has thoughts, feelings, and dreams. That, in encountering people who differ from us, we can probably learn much more than we will ever learn in any classroom…or at home.

How am I preparing my children for the real world?

By helping them to understand that school, no matter where it takes place, represents such a tiny portion of life, both in space and time. Once we’ve put in our thirteen years…that’s when we go out into the real world and see where we fit into it.