RSS

Category Archives: Worship

It is good to hear a terrible (to you) sermon now and then

One Sunday recently when I was in Central America I attended an English (Gringo) service hosted by the Spanish (Tico) congregation my brother and his wife and other gringo missionaries in the area are part of.

These Gringos (mainly my brother’s family and another family) are involved with setting up a Christian Private school, and have roles in running an addiction treatment ministry, and helping out in a ministry that takes young girls out of the sex trade and teaches them English so they can get jobs in the regular tourist trade and support their families that way instead. It is all great ministry and all three are growing. The lady who was in charge of the Addiction treatment facility has been there 10 years, and clearly has deep connections, relationship and respect from the Ticos. She showed me the Saturday market, and it took us quite some time to walk from one end to the other with all the hello’s and greetings and meetings we had on the way. That respect seems to be the fruit of a combination of her personality and a factor of having put in a long time in the community. All three missions, and even the Gringo congregation, had stories about the difficulty of getting government permits in writing. The more I heard and saw, the more I think it has to do with an innocent, well-meaning arrogance Gringos bring with them, that the Ticos see and smell but that is inodible (I made that word up spellchecker) to the carriers of it. I have developed this radar that is always asking “What am I communicating that I am blind to” and that radar leads me to that awareness.

Back to the worship service. When you are not at home you expect to experience something different. I did. I was not prepared to be so disturbed by a sermon though.

The ‘pattern’ of worship there is to start with a set of worship songs that move from enthusiastic, to pensive, to a ‘pentecostal’ mood and then finishing with a rousing chorus repeated multiple times. After that came announcements, offering, and then the message to close the service.

It began with the obvious challenge of musicians leading us in worship using their second language. I was deeply appreciative of the musicians (the great drummer was only 12 and had been drumming since he was 4) being willing to risk this as hosts. When you are worshiping in a second language, and you get to the part of worship where you usually lose yourself in adoration and pentecostal praise, reverting to your mother tongue is understandable. Meaning it’s ok with me as a Gringo, even if I can’t understand. And yes, the irony of reverting to one’s first language in a “Pentecost” moment is rich and wonderful for a Reformed guy to observe.
The musicians finished and left.
At that point the congregated are all older but-able-to-travel-and-be-active Americans, and my brother’s young family, and the lady from the addiction treatment center and her young son and teen daughter.
Then some announcements.
Then the pastor asks someone to come forward to tell of some mission work they do. It’s a near 60 yr old builder guy from Tennessee or some place like that, who tells of his conversion 6 years before, and how he a year later felt God telling him to go to poor countries and build houses to North American specs (double pane windows) and ready for plumbing and electric if the people want to put them in later (but no one does) to give them away. He tells of how it has grown, and how they’ve done 12 houses now, and if you want support or be part of a team etc etc etc. And I was wondering how helpful that kind of thing really is, but when he asked for questions I stayed quiet. I’m a guest. I don’t want to make trouble for my brother and his wife’s reputation. I had already asked some pointed questions at the open house for the new home some of the same people had built that was to be a group home for the girls who had been rescued from their pimps. Questions like “What do you do to be careful to respect their cultural patterns, like their more lax approach to time, (which I admire and envy) and not turn them into little American Northern Europeans? And in fact could that be one of the resistance factors in getting government permits?” Like that. It’s what I do. But I began to realize these people were not used to thinking that way, and didn’t really understand what was behind the question… they are convinced they are doing a good thing (and they are) and don’t understand why not everyone rushes in to support it.
So I stayed still in church.
Then the scripture was read.
Hebrews 11:6, which we were told was a context where the writer was talking about faith: “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”
The word “earnestly” or “diligently” became the focal point of a sermon that substantially was a contrasting of lazy and diligent, with a long string of “definition of lazy” jokes being the counterpoint to the diligence. “When the remote is 10 feet away and you decide you like the rerun after all… that’s laziness and not diligence” that kind of thing.
The theme statement or big idea seemed to be “Work hard, don’t be lazy, and you will please God enough that things will work out for you” with the caveat that a prosperity gospel was not what was being preached. There was no caveat about works righteousness.
Very soon I began realizing that my experience of the faith journey, and my understanding of the passage, was completely different than his. My experience was that a certain kind of ‘trying hard’ that he was describing, for me almost always led to problems, and that a recognition that my effort was not the key but my relaxing into God’s will for the moment led to all kinds of great results my efforts had little to do with. I saw and heard the passage saying “Faith in God leads to God being pleased, coming to God in belief leads to pleasing God, earnestly seeking relationship with God leads to rewards that are freaky and wonderful and amazing and unimaginable beforehand.
So there I was, believing the complete opposite of what he was preaching. And I was seeing how a message like this was perpetuating the inodible problems and barriers. And I was frustrated.
Now, that all would have been workable, if this was not a “call for response” insecure preacher. But, alas, he kept asking “are you with me? Let me hear an Amen!” and at my toughest point he directly asked “Do you agree with me? I need to hear if you agree with me!” and I made myself look over at my brother’s family and think about what damage I might do to their work there if I told out loud what I was thinking and feeling, and I kept quiet.
Later, when I had time at the poolside to reflect, I came to realize how important it is to hear a bad sermon now and then, how it can sharpen your awareness of God’s ways.

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Drama and symbolism in church

So today, in an internet discussion group, the above mentioned subject came up. And the discussion prompted a memory for me, and since I’m in the mood to explore my writing, I wrote up a memory I have about an event that happened in church when I was a child, an event which was part of what shaped my views of what should happen in church.

It’s called “Getting wound up about superficial symbolism” If you’d like to read it you can click on the title, or cut and paste the link below into your browser, or find it in the list of pages to the right.

https://pastorpete.wordpress.com/lifelessons/getting-wound-up-about-superficial-symbolism/

 

The Dirty Cup lesson

Here’s a message I’ve been tinkering on for a month. It’s about a connection between one of my favourite sermons out of my repertoire and how a connection was made between it and my new job in the middle of preaching it.

Dirty Cups, my job and a call to the church today

 

Tags: ,

Reformation Sunday

Here is a link to the last written draft version of the sermon I preached for Reformation Sunday 2007.

https://pastorpete.wordpress.com/my-work/remorphation/

 

Visiting a church Aug 26

Today I visited a small church group that meets in a room in a school. I visited as guest pastor. I arrived exactly when the service was supposed to start, because I had not paid close attention to a small detail on the instructions. I was led to the room (some kind of a music room, judging by the symbols decorating it) and sat down. This did not give me good opportunity to ‘read’ the situation as I arrived. What I did notice and found fascinating was that besides the middle aged and older people in “sensible” semi-above-casual clothes, there were a few teenagers, one in the full goth look. Dark black long hair, full-length black coat with various vivid red symbols painted on it, some looked like chinese characters. I never got the chance to take a closer look or to try conversation with that group. This person was with two others, one was carrying a baby. So it made for an interesting contrast and step out of the ordinary right away.

Even though I was there just on time, the service did not get going for another 10 minutes. One person led the service. A piano led the music. There were several projected litanies to start. The feel was nice and relaxed, a bit interactive. There was no amplification and this made for a more intimate and interpersonal feel to the situation. I am realizing as I write that arriving like I did had me missing many details. For instance, I have no real idea how many people were in that room, I just never attended to that detail, even when I was preaching. When I sat, I sat at the front, and it would have been a bit obvious to turn and count. I’m going to guess it was around 40 people. I knew beforehand there would be a significant number of teachers, and when I asked for a show of hands there were about 7. This Sunday, just like last, there was another pastor in the congregation who was on vacation.

A lady spoke after I did about her family’s mission work in Africa.

There was coffee after the service, and there I had two facinating conversations with retired men who have a passion for ongoing Kingdom work. Both of them have a passion for mission education. One was a retired businessman who in retirement is getting himself theolgocally educated, the other a retired educator. That kind of conversation I could do all day. 

Saturday I assisted a lady in putting on a training workshop on enfolding the marginalized and handicapped into a church setting. She had heard a few of my experiences and asked me to share them. It was an educational time of sharing back and forth. Boy, parents of less-able-to be like everyone else expects children have a real hardship, and the church has a real opportunity to be a haven and a resting place for them, but I learned again that I don’t fully understand as a pastor how best to do that and how often the church’s approach actually causes more hardship than relief. Much learning and work remains to be done. 

Next week, if all goes well, I will have a report on my first experience at a small church in Washington state that I am working on an agreement with to be their interim pastor. I am not sure how I will blog that yet. It may take a day or two before I get to a computer or an internet connection and can post my experiences. There are many uncertain things about this situation yet, for instance, whether I can get a work permit, and other technical details. I’m looking forward to it if it works out.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on August 26, 2007 in Future, report on event, Worship

 

Visiting a church Aug 12

I visited a small to medium size church about a half hour from my home on August 12th. I visited as guest preacher. It is a group that began in a school and bought a church building not long ago.

I got there 15 minutes before service time, and met with some of the leaders to touch on some final details and to set up my dirty cup props. Showing my traditionalism, I was at first thrown by the lack of a pulpit to place them on. But I adapted quickly.

This was a wonderfully casual church situation.They had coffee out and available before the service, and many were getting a cup and taking it with them to their seats. I got one too.

The worship leaders had a prayer a few minutes before the service started. We did this right on stage at the front. I like that. I’ve often wondered why we hide away to pray. A few minutes after the prayer we began singing. The leader gave a brief and warm welcome and led in a set of worship songs. Most of them were not familiar to me, but were simple enough to catch on to quickly. There were three vocalists, two female and one male, and one of the females – the worship leader – also had a regular guitar. The women had a unique vocal style, a higher, airy way of singing that added a sense of intensity. There was also an electric guitar and a fellow on a drum that was more in what I call a bongo style (though the skin was a larger diameter than we might usually think of when Bongo is mentioned) and he could get some good solid thumps out of it for emphasis.

What was interesting and new was how the worship space filled up as we sang. When it started the place was maybe half-full and when the songs were done, it was three quarter full. Those attending, I’d guess about 50 or 60 people, I was thrilled to see later, were predominantly youth. A lot of 20-somethings there. That’s exciting to see and a good sign for the future of this group. It made me a bit nervous too, because I did not know if I could be engaging enough for them.

After the first set of songs, a Psalm was read and we sang again, and then an offering was taken up while the worship leaders sang. I was introduced, and I gave my “Cleaning the Inside” message using the dirty cups illustration. Because there was no pulpit, I made this an opportunity to challenge myself to not look at my notes. I slowly got over my jitters as the congregation was clearly attentive, relating to and even responding to some of what I spoke about. There is a point in this message where I talk about the ‘inspection’ Mothers used to make of the children in the car on the way to church, and I asked if anyone knew what happened if Mom found dirt on the face of a child. Well, a young woman came right up out of her pew and came at me licking her thumb, ready to demonstrate on my face, and the congregation laughed as I made haste to get away from her. So from that I could tell they were ‘into’ what I was saying and were having no trouble being engaged.

It is interesting (maybe only to me) how when I depart from my notes a sermon can take a whole different direction than usual. That happened here too. I just listened to the mp3 of it, which is on their web page. I’m not into self-promotion, and in fact am pretty uncomfortable giving out printed or audio copies of my sermons, so to find it if you’d like to hear it you will have to do some detective work and figure out which church it was. Fact is, when I listen to it, I feel terrible in part, because I think of how I could have said it different or better. But those listening don’t know that, I’ve learned. Mostly only preachers hear their sermons and those of others that way.

We sang one song after the message, and then I was asked to give a blessing and the service was done. Another good Sunday.

 
4 Comments

Posted by on August 13, 2007 in Reflection, report on event, Worship

 

Visiting a Thursday night 12 Step DTE meeting

On Thursday night I attended a “meeting” in the Down Town Eastside (DTE). I have been once before and found an email about that visit which I will paste at the end of the report on this one. I arrived a minute or two before the start time, and on the sidewalk I spotted the two people I know (Murray and Wally) who go there regularly, who had just arrived. We exchanged greetings and updates as we entered the modified storefront where the meeting was to be held. They had been attending the Leadership Summit Satellite event in Vancouver so they had some neat inspirational stuff to report. Wally went to talk to someone, and Murray and I selected three seats and sat talking. The atmosphere was calmly chaotic. There was Christian worship music playing, and someone was setting up chairs and two people were tinkering with a laptop that was running the projector. The type of people here were not what you would expect to see in a worship service. The irony is that thinking that exposes your hidden biases. There were people of a wide variety of skin tones, ranging from never-been in the sun white, through in the sun a lot white, to native complexion and Asian and East Indian. Some were decorated with tattoos, some with piercings. Running shoes and caps or hats were common on the guys. Some averted their eyes if you looked at them, others caused my eyes to be averted when I saw them, for fear of them feeling provoked. I just can’t step out of my stereotypical white middle-class-suburban thinking very easily. Those who were not sitting quietly or chattingly waiting were milling about. Each chair had two sheets of paper on it. One was a page in a plastic sheath that had the Twelve Steps and Bible Principles on one side and the other the name of the organization and explanation of Christian 12-Step Meetings with 3 Life Affirmation Statements and the Serenity Prayer. The bottom of the sheet had a list of “Some areas of Addiction/Dependency”, a list that included things like “Control, illness (Hypochondria), Rage, Religion, Television, Abusive or Toxic Relationships, and Approval” among numerous others. The second sheet had the evening’s topic on the one printed side. We were told we could take that home. The Topic was “Facing Fear.” I joked about this with Murray a bit, because I had been struggling with fears this week, and that morning on my walk had listened to the next two talks I had downloaded onto my MP3 player, and they were both on dealing with Fears.

Someone came around and asked Murray to lead a prayer later, which he agreed to do. The person had a sheet with a pre-written prayer on it, but Murray said he would not need it, and some fun comments were made back and forth among those who were the organizers of this event, affirming that indeed Murray did not need a pre-written prayer. The organizer who asked Murray to pray, went around the room and asked various people to do various such tasks. One person was to read the “Welcome” and another a statement of guidelines or explanation about why they come together.

Then suddenly three people had Guitars they were strumming and we sang some songs, several of them quite exuberantly and expressively. The first was “Fear not I am with you” and another one was one we had sung the previous Sunday morning, the one with the phrases “you are my rock” and “an anchor for my soul.” I should be ashamed for thinking it, but I was astonished at both the familiarity with the song, and the enthusiasm with which it was sung. People kept arriving, and by the time the singing was done I guess there were about 30 people present. I don’t know if I”m supposed to count the person sleeping in the doorway.

After the songs everyone was welcomed the opening prayer was prayed, the two statements already mentioned were read, and we were asked to go around the room introducing ourselves by our first names. Then a list of Addictions and Dependencies was shown, with a logo of a fast food outlet shown in the middle. Many started joking about that, and the key organizer said there was a reason it was there, because she struggled with that area, and had broken down and gone there the past week, and had convinced others to join her. There was joking about her being a pusher, and enabler and a dealer. Then a big laugh went up when a lady came and made a quick presentation to the key organizer. She talked about how her daughter had met the lady for the first time recently and wanted to give her a gift, and it was coupons for that very Fast Food outlet. After that we were asked to take a few moments to ponder the list and have God speak to us indivitually about what areas we needed to work on. After that a few announcements were made, a styrofoam cup collection receptacle was passed around, and we moved to the topic. People read from the handout a paragraph at a time. I was surprised at the complexity of the language. Here are a few samples:

“Many of us identify a fearful person as a coward, someone who is not assertive, shyness or someone cowering at intimidation. But fear can also be expressed by unrealistic bravado, excessive talking, work-aholism” …” Three forms of defensiveness include: Denial – refusal to acknowledge…, Evasiveness, Reversal – we assume others are out to get us so we become offensive whenever delicate matters are mentioned.”

There were a few bible passages in the text (from Ps 27 and 56) and it finished with a description of what a God based self image was like. Then there was a list of 7 questions. The faciliatator drew our attention to the two she wanted discussed that night, leaving it open for any comments if people felt so inclined. She also mentioned this topic was very closely related to the Fourth Step.

The facilitator then spoke about how she had lived with fear, and how she learned to overcome it. Then she asked various others to talk on the topic or what they were thinking related to it. This again was the most astonishing and refreshing and convicting part of the meeting for me. One after another person spoke, not about the issue of fear, not about the idea of fear, not about how others have fear (or not solely about that) but about their fears, past and present, and how they were learning to trust God in them. I am not used to such refreshing openness and vulnerability, and I was not prepared either for how that kind of talk began to speak to my life, because as they spoke about them, they were speaking about me. And I began to wonder if they knew what they were saying! People were free to speak as long or short as they needed. People could pass, or ask to have the privilege of speaking back later if they got stuck in what they wanted to say.

There was a short coffee break, then the guitars started us on a song again, and there was a closing round of talking on the subject of fear. The 12 steps and their associated scripture sample were read one by one going around the room. We then stood, held hands and read/recited the Life Affirmations and the Serenity Prayer, and the meeting was over. It was refreshing, humbling, and somehow closer to how I feel church should be, an unpretentious and raw gathering of unabashed, unafraid-to-admit-it sinners in need of and receiving grace and grateful for it.

That was this past Thursday.

It is interesting to me that the only other time I had been there we had exactly the same topic.

On Friday, March 31 2006 I wrote this report after my first time there.
Authentic Worship

I attended a rather different service last night. The liturgy was deep and meaningful, but the most precious moments were improvised, as several people became astonishingly exposed and naked over the course of the night.
We came in to the ramshackle facility to find a few early birds hanging around, one or two were praying, one or two were singing along and or making physical motions that coordinated with the music that was playing from a PalmPilot connected to a BoomBox. Tables were set up in a U shaped arrangement, with chairs around them, and then another set of chairs around the walls. A background info sheet and a topic sheet were laying ready at each seat. The projector showed a calming water scene, with welcoming words laid over top. Several cultural backgrounds were represented, including native and Jamaican, and even the white folk were of diverse origin judging from a few accents. We were about 30 in number by the time everyone arrived.
Elsie, the leader, the key figure most say is who makes this meeting unique because of her way of connecting people with Jesus, was wandering around greeting people and making some last minute arrangements. Eventually she began, from a seat at the front, to speak words of welcome. Some there maintained conversations with their neighbour through this, but Elsie showed no disturbance about this whenever she was speaking. She eventually picked up her guitar, began playing, and a single mother who had brought the only present child – a boy of about 10 – began to arrange for the words to show up, doing her best to keep up with Elsie’s jumping around in the songs.
After a few songs (most of which I knew) sung with individual range levels of enthusiasm and familiarity which combined into intense, not necessarily melodic praise, a few liturgical pieces were read by pre-selected attendees.
Then the topic of the night was introduced. It was “Facing Fear.”
Appointed attendees took turns reading portions off the topic sheet, words which showed up on the overhead as well. They read about how fearfulness is expressed both by non-assertiveness and bravado. “Fear identifies itself by defensiveness” we heard, and defensiveness comes in three forms: Denial, Evasiveness and Reversal. Then we heard how God has something “richer and safer in mind for us” and quotes from Ps 27 and 56 were read. We heard how fear can be contagious, about the danger of having our emotions hinge solely on the opinions of others because “we can never be sure when we might be rejected or criticized or ignored.” Then we heard about what a God based self-image is like.
After that, Elsie posed this question: How does fear work in your life, and how does God help you in that?
She asked specific people to respond. Some declined, one said get back to me, but we heard three or four awesome, personal, vulnerable, nothing-to-lose-hearts-on-the-table responses. One responder talked about how he deliberately surrounds himself with God-connected people so that when a crisis of fear comes, he has someone near at hand. Another said “My biggest fear is a fear of actually being loved, which creates obvious problems between me and God.” The honesty and authenticity was awe inspiring, and it was very clear that God’s Spirit was at work. Also the room was amazingly silent and patient, though no one had commanded it be so.
We then had a break, after which we returned for more responses to the question, some more liturgy, some prayer and closed with a song.
One of the most inspiring services I have been part of in a while.
It was a Christian 12 step meeting in the downtown EastSide in Vancouver. My friend had invited me along to show my why he preferred this to a CRC bible study. I totally see why.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on August 10, 2007 in Reflection, report on event, Worship