Good Friday Service

This Friday at 5:30 pm Christ Church of Morgantown will be having their annual Good Friday Service. It will be located here, at the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Morgantown. We read through the Old Testament promises of Christ’s coming, as well as the crucifixion account. We also sing many of the best known passion hymns such as “Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted” and “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.”  All told it runs about 30 minutes. Afterwards we will have meal of soup and chili.  If you do not have anywhere to go on Good Friday consider attending our service. It is a wonderful reminder each year of Christ’s work upon the cross.

The Session of Christ Church also encourages fasting on that day. You can do it any variety of ways. My family usually eats bread and water for a couple of meals. You can skip a whole meal or a couple of meals. If you are pregnant or nursing you may want to forgo fasting. We also encourage you to spend the time you would normally be eating or preparing food in extra prayer.

Song Notes for November 24, 2013

Here are some brief notes on the songs we will be singing this Lord’s Day at Christ Church. 
Just a reminder we sing four hymns outside of the Lord’s Supper: an entrance hymn, one song after the confession of sin, and two songs prior to the sermon. 
Entrance Hymn: Psalm 138 (With All My Heart My Thanks I’ll Bring), p. 182
This is a great song to enter into worship with. First, it has a wonderful tune. The opening song should have some pep to it. This one does.
Second, it is about thanksgiving. The very first line of the song indicates David’s purpose for writing the psalm. He wants to give thanks to God for his truth and grace. Whenever we enter God’s house we should be ready to give him thanks and praise.
Third, there is an emphasis on God’s Word. King David gives praise to God for magnifying his faithful word. Then he declares that all the kings of earth will give thanks and sing when they have heard God’s Word.  Like David we enter into God’s house to hear his word and give thanks to God for the Scriptures.
Finally, David says that God “knoweth” the proud and haughty only from afar.  As we enter worship, humility is needed. We come to bend the knee to God’s Word and His will. The proud are cast down in worship, but the humble repent and grow.
Hymn of Thanksgiving: O Come, O Come Emmanuel, p. 227
Next Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent. During Advent we look back to the time before Christ was born, but we also look forward to the time when he will come again. It is a season of waiting.  This hymn reflects that longing for Christ that was in the heart of every true Israelite before Jesus came and should be in our hearts too as we look for the coming of our Lord.
One cool part of this song is how each verse begins with an Old Testament name of Jesus.
Emmanuel means “God with Us” and is used in Isaiah 7:14 and quoted in Matthew 1:23.
Lord of Might is a paraphrase of one of Isaiah’s favorite names of God “Lord of Hosts.” This phrase is used 50 times in Isaiah. It means Lord of armies and refers to God’s power and might.
Rod of Jesseis found in Isaiah 11:1 in the King James Version where God promises to send a king to rule.
Dayspringmeans sunrise and probably refers to Jesus as the great coming light, which is mentioned in Isaiah 60:1, 19.
Key of Davidcomes from Isaiah 22:22 where the Lord says he will lay the Key of David on Eliakim who is a type of Christ.  In 22:22 God says he will lay the keys on Eliakim’s shoulder, which points back to Isaiah 9:6 where it is said that the government will be upon Jesus’ shoulder.
The main point of the song is that the coming of Christ brings gladness and joy as all our enemies are put to flight.
Worship Song #1: Psalm 63 (O Lord, My God, Most Earnestly), p. 93
Psalm 63 is a beautiful meditation by King David on his longing for God.  If you look in your Bible you will see that David wrote this psalm when he was in the wilderness of Judah fleeing from King Saul.  Two verses sum up David’s love for God and God’s love for David. First, verse 1 declares that apart from God David will die. He will go hungry. He will go thirsty. His flesh will waste away. Second, in verse 3 he says that the lovingkindness of God is better than life to him.  The word in Hebrew is “chesed” or God’s covenant faithfulness or mercy.  God’s love for David is better than breath. He would rather die than be cut off from God’s love.
The tune is a bit melancholy, emphasizing David’s longing for God and his mercy. Notice here that David longs to go into God’s house. While the tabernacle and Temple have been done away with, God’s people should still long to be in God’s presence and worshiping with other saints. God is always with us, as he was with David in the wilderness. However, there is a special presence of God in worship. It is in within his house that we see the “glories of his grace.”
Worship Song #2: O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing, p. 315
How impoverished our hymn singing would be without Charles Wesley!  Wesley begins this great hymn with praise and then, as usual, fills it with wonderful images of God’s kindness to us in Christ.
My favorite line in the song, and one of the most theologically rich, is the first phrase in verse 4, “He breaks the power of cancelled sin.”  Here, in one short phrase, Wesley speaks of both sanctification (breaking sin’s power) and justification (sin being cancelled).  He reminds us that Jesus forgives, but by His Spirit, he also gives us power to overcome sin.
Wesley also gives us a great picture of salvation when he says that Jesus “speaks and listening to His voice new life the dead receive” (verse 5).   First, Wesley understands that we are dead and need to be raised.  We don’t need more education. We need resurrection.  Second, he understands that Jesus’ voice is what raises us.  Wesley probably has John 10:3 and 16 in view as well as the raising of Lazarus from the dead in John 11:38-44.

Finally, Wesley began his hymn wishing for a thousand tongues to praise God. He ends the hymn with a call to all the redeemed to employ their tongues in praise to God (verse 6).

I encourage you to practice these songs as a family or listen to them online as you prepare to enter God’s house. 

Weaknesses in Worship: Part I

William Willimon is one of most insightful and provocative writers around today, especially on issues of worship and sacraments. He is also a Methodist. That means he has bought hook, line and sinker women’s ordination and other faults of the Methodist church. Despite this, his books are worth reading because he forces you to examine your presuppositions. Also his writing is lively, which makes him fun to read. In his book, A Guide to Preaching and Leading Worship, he lists some of the common weaknesses in worship. I am going to take each weakness Willimon mentions and discuss how my church attempts to correct that weakness.

The first weakness Willimon mentions is that many services lack focus and coherence in the acts of worship. “The service moves in several different directions at once. ” In other words the service is just a mishmash of songs, prayers and a sermon with little plan or direction. How does it all fit together? Willimon mentions the use of a lectionary and the church year as solutions to this problem of lack of coherence. We use the church year. However, our lectionary is tied to the word preached and I preach through books of the Bible. So we do not use a lectionary that skips from book to book.

While I am not opposed to either of these, the best way for coherence and direction in worship is to have the service move in a Gospel centered direction. The Gospel is what we preach and our services should have this as their mold. In my circles this is known as covenant renewal worship, but is done by other groups that do not use that name.

Here is how it works. Our service has a specific direction and movement. Each piece of the service leads to the next piece. The service begins with sinners being brought into the presence of a holy God. Those sinners then confess they are sinners and plead the shed blood of Christ. They are then forgiven and sanctified by God’s Word. They eat a meal of peace with God (the Lord’s Supper) and then are sent out to be salt and light in the world. This is how we experience the Gospel in our lives and therefore this forms how we do worship. The pattern is the same every week because the Gospel never changes. Luther was once asked, “Why do you preach the Gospel every week?” He said, “Because you forget every week.” That is why for us at Christ Church, we have the same pattern of worship every week. Below is a short look at our service. If you would like a more extensive look you can go to our church website and look at the “Our Worship” tab for a full liturgy.

Called to Worship by God
Confession of Our Sins
Consecration by God’s Word
Communion with Christ and His Body
Commissioned to Go Out and Preach Christ to the World

The Lectionary

Lectionary is a term referring to reading through the Scriptures. It can refer to daily readings or reading in worship. Throughout this post I will use it to refer to reading in the worship service.

Reading the Bible in worship is a vital part of the building up of the saints and honoring the Lord. There can be anywhere from 2 to 4 different readings. Some churches do an Old or New Testament reading. Others do an Old Testament reading, a reading from the Epistles and a reading from the Gospels. Finally, some churches do an Old Testament reading, a Psalm, a reading from the Epistles and a reading from the Gospels.

There are two ways this can be done. One is called lectio continua. This means you read consecutively through books of the Bible. For example, one week read Matthew 1, the next week Matthew 2 and so on. The advantage of this type of reading is that the congregation gets to read through a book getting a feel for its flow and texture. This is very effective with narrative, such as I Samuel or Acts. It is not as effective with books like Isaiah or Romans because it is harder to follow this type of reading from week to week. The other disadvantage is that you may end up reading something that does not relate to the church year. What if you ended up reading Matthew 27 on Christmas!

The second way the Scriptures can be read is called lectio selecta. This means passages are selected that are linked together in some way. For example on Pentecost Sunday, the Church could read Ezekiel 37, about the raising of the dry bones by the Spirit, Acts 2:1-11 about the pouring out of the Spirit and parts of Roman 8 on the work of the Holy Spirit. The advantage of this way of doing things is that it helps the believer tie together various parts of Scripture, in particular the Old Testament and the New Testament. Also this allows someone to use Scripture readings to correspond to the various parts of the church year. So at Advent there are readings that talk about Christ’s coming from the Old Testament and His arrival in the New Testament. The disadvantage of this is that the congregation does not read through whole books of the Bible.

At my church we use the last method for Scripture readings in the service. Since we only have two readings, an Old and New Testament, we follow a lectionary that includes an Old Testament reading and a corresponding New Testament reading. For example, on June 21st we will read the account of the Israelites worshipping the golden calf from Exodus 32 and Paul’s use of this passage in I Corinthians 10:1-11 to remind us not to follow in their footsteps by worshipping idols. One great advantage of using this method is that it links the Old Testament and the New Testament. This is a sorely needed exercise in today’s church where most Christians read the Bible as a group of unrelated passages. It also follows the church year so that at Christmas we read Christmas portions of the Scriptures. I encourage my congregation to read the lectionary readings before coming to worship and look for the connection. Some are obvious, such as the one mentioned above. Others require some more thought to see the link. If you do find the link your understanding of how the Old Testament is interpreted by the New Testament will be enhanced.

We should be reading through the Bible consecutively as well. This is primarily done in our daily Scripture readings with our family. But even in worship I read through books of the Bible as I preach through them. I normally use the lectio continua method in my preaching. Before my current series on Proverbs, I preached through the first ten psalms. Before each sermon I read the Psalm I was going to preach on. In a few weeks I will begin preaching through Philippians. During this sermon series I will read straight through the book prior to the sermons. Both of these are lectio continua. Thus at our church we combine both methods.

Why Use the Church Year?

The church year has long been a part of most Christian traditions. However, for many mainstream Protestants the church year is a hangover from Roman Catholicism. Thus a vast majority of Protestant churches do not follow the church year, though they still celebrate Christmas and Easter.

The question of whether or not to use the church year is really a question of time and how to use it. Every church has special days. For many churches July 4th, Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, and Thanksgiving all get special attention, often with a sermon. Other churches organize their Sundays around what the pastor is preaching on. For example, if he is preaching on Romans they will have songs and Scripture readings that correspond. Some churches have special events throughout the year, such as dinners, vacation Bible school, youth Sunday or mission Sunday. So the question is never does a church structure time, but rather according to what to they order their time?

What happened over time is that many churches chose to reject the church year feeling that it was unbiblical. But that did not eliminate holy days, rather it allowed civic and personal holy days to intrude into the life of the Church. Thus we have reached a point where everyone knows when it is Mother’s Day, but no one knows when it is Ascension Sunday. It is hard to imagine, even if we love our mothers, that this is a good thing! Slowly we have been taught by these holy days that what really matters is America and our families.

The church year helps us remember the ultimate reality, the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ. While civic and personal holidays have their place in the Christian life, they are not primary. We are not primarily citizens of America or even members of our biological family. We are primarily disciples of Christ, members of His Body. The church year helps us to remember the life of Christ and teaches us about who Christ is and what He did. It also helps us order our lives in Christ-like or cruciform manner. Easter is not just about Christ’s resurrection, but points to our future resurrection as well. The Incarnation of Christ, which we celebrate at Christmas, reminds us that we are to empty ourselves for others as Christ did for us. As we go through the various church seasons we are reminded that true life is not found in politicians and country or in mom and dad. True life is found in Christ.

What is the Church Year?

At my church we celebrate the church year. The church year is a way of structuring time so that our church calendar follows the life of Christ. Here is how it looks with dates for the 2008-2009 year. I will follow this up with a post on why we use the church year.

1. Advent: This is a time of preparation for the celebrating Christmas. It also is a time to consider the 2nd Advent of Christ when He will come again. It begins the fourth Sunday before Christmas. The color for this season is purple or blue in honor of the coming King. (November 30, 2008-December 21, 2008)

2. Christmas: Of course, here we celebrate Christ’s birth. It is always two Sundays. The color for Christmas is white. (December 28, 2008-January 4, 2009)

3. Epiphany: This season begins every year on January 6th. Epiphany is the season we celebrate Jesus’ manifestation of Himself as God. The Greek word “epiphany” means manifestation. Often there is an emphasis on celebrating who Christ is by looking at events such as His baptism, His presentation in the Temple and the Transfiguration. The color for Epiphany is green, which symbolizes Christ giving life to the world. (January 6, 2009-February 22, 2009)

4. Lent: This season is the forty days preceding Easter. Sundays are not included because Sundays are feast days celebrating Christ’s resurrection. It begins on Ash Wednesday and is often a time of reflection and increased penitence. Many people fast for various reasons. Of all the seasons we celebrate this one is the most difficult to justify from the Bible. Primarily because there was only one fast day in the Old Testament. It is hard to justify 40 days of fasting in the New Testament, which is a better, more glorious covenant. Many Protestant churches, which celebrate the church year, do not emphasize Lent and some will even cut it out altogether and extend Epiphany until Easter. One fascinating note is that the Annunciation, that is the announcement to Mary that she was with Child, is celebrated during this time because it is nine months before Christmas (March 25). Thus even as we get ready to celebrate Christ’s death and resurrection we are remembering His birth also. The color for Lent is purple. (February 25, 2009-April 11, 2009)

5. Holy Week: Easter is preceded by Holy Week, which is part of Lent. This includes Palm Sunday, which celebrates the Triumphal Entry, Maundy Thursday, which celebrates the Last Supper and Judas’ betrayal and Good Friday, which revolves around the crucifixion of our Lord. The color for this week is red. (April 5, 2009-April 11, 2009)

6. Easter Season/Eastertide: This is the greatest season in the church year. It moves around from year to year based on the spring equinox. It last 50 days and celebrates Jesus’ resurrection. The colors for the Easter Season are white and gold. White symbolizing the angels who announced the resurrection and gold symbolizing Christ’s triumph over death. During the Easter season we also celebrate Ascension Day and Pentecost. Ascension Day is the celebration of Christ’s Ascension to the Father. Pentecost is the Sunday we celebrate the pouring out the Spirit upon the Church. (April 12, 2009-May 31, 2009)

7. Ordinary Time/Pentecost Season/Trinity Season: There are several names for this longest portion of the church year. It runs from the day after Pentecost until the day before Advent. Here we celebrate the fulfilling of the Great Commission. The first Sunday of this period is Trinity Sunday, which the church celebrates the Holy Trinity. The color for this portion of the church year is green. (June 1, 2009-November 28, 2009)

Is Christmas Pagan?

About this time of year numerous Christians become anxious about celebrating Christmas. Is Christmas Christian? Is Christmas Roman Catholic? Isn’t Christmas a leftover from the pagan nature rituals of the ancient world? Jeff Meyers has done a lot of work on trying to sort out what is true and what is not about the Christmas season, as well as for the whole Church year. He recently posted several links to brief articles he has written answering some common objections to celebrating Christmas. Here are the articles. I encourage you to read the ones that interest you the most. One will not agree with everything that is said, but Meyers will get you thinking about things you haven’t considered before.