The Heart of Worship (6) – Worship as Trusting

I came across the following quote this week, which made me say, that’s what this Heart of Worship Series is meant to be doing for Ashmore Uniting Church and all its members. “ The missional church is not a first-century church; it is a twenty-first century church committed to use every means available to accomplish God’s missional purpose on earth.  Such churches are connecting members intimately with God and involving them in His mission around the world.  The measure of a missional church is the transformational impact of its members’ lives in their world.  Their influence results in new followers of Christ, new communities of faith developing.  It is impossible to separate the individual focus from the corporate endevour.  The church is what its members are.” (Shaped By God’s Heart – The passion and practices of Missional churches, by Milfred Minatrea p.x)

The Fashion Parade yesterday at Somerville Funerals is an example of the above quote being engaged by our missional church to impact the world around us.  Our vision is to be ‘reaching out, changing lives’ and I want to commend everyone who participated in that endeavour.   Our shop managers Kelly and Trish need to be affirmed for taking up the opportunity of reaching out to the wider community, way beyond the walls of The Church of The Good Shepherd.  For the many helpers and models that made the afternoon such a wonderful success and unique occasion, Thank You.  Yesterday was a huge step in faith and now we commit to praying that God will bring into our sphere of influence, people who also will be transformed by the Christian Gospel and enter into a Heart of Worship that is shaped by God’s Heart.

In our worship Services over the past two weeks we’ve focused on the theme of Lament in an attempt to ‘be real with God and with our lives’.  This week we are moving to focus on Worship as Trusting, trusting God in every sphere and facet of our lives personally and corporately as the body of Christ.  In the laments we found that the psalmist’s poems (Psalm 130, 137, 51) initially exudes despair and loss, but moves toward hope and assurance.  The Psalmist reflects a TRUST IN GOD that can overcome all obstacles, even death.  In the Psalms that we looked at last week (130 & 137) both readings pointed to the fact that we have no control over many things that happen to us or to others.  A drunk driver loses control and slams into our car.  We have a bushfire that ravages our homes.  A downturn in the economy results in us losing our job.  We contract cancer or a life-threatening virus.  All are beyond our control.  Like the Psalmist, we demand an answer from God, but many times no answer comes.  The important thing is to keep bringing our prayers and laments before God.  The Bible demonstrates that Lament is not the last word.  Just as the Psalmist knows that God hears our prayers even when he appears to be absent, the psalmist also knows hope – that God will deliver them eventually from their suffering, in God’s own time.

This is where Worship as Trusting becomes important for us in worship.  We will be using Psalm 23 as a focus for the service today.  As The Church of The Good Shepherd, we need to trust God by being obedient to Him.  Firstly we need to recognize God’s voice, just as sheep know the voice of their Shepherd.  We need to be a listening and prayerful church if we are going to hear God’s voice.  Secondly, we must commit without question to the direction in which God leads us, even if our own desires tempt us to follow another path.  God’s path/direction can also be surprising and unexpected.  Our fashion parade yesterday took us into unchartered waters.  It was risky but it was something that we believed that God was giving us an opportunity to respond to.  Praise The Lord for our Missional Church leaders who followed the Good Shepherd’s voice.

One of my favourite passages of scripture is from Proverbs 3:5  “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding.  Acknowledge the Lord in all your ways and he will direct your paths.

 May Christ guide you beside the still waters as you Trust Him in your worship, in your life … this week.   Rev. Brad Foote

The Heart of Worship (5) – Worship as Lament (Cont’d)

We continue in our Heart of Worship Series today with a second look at the theme of Lament.  I think that a cursory glance at lament is not giving honour to such an important theme in this journey of worship as we build the ’pillar of worship’ for Ashmore Uniting Church. Old Testament theologian Bernhard Anderson says that lament is praise offered in a minor key.  We have a tendency to avoid the minor key.  Most music that is sung in churches is not written in this way.  We prefer our songs to be upbeat and joyful.  This would suggest that, like the world around us, we generally avoid pain and suffering. (i.e. – life in the ‘minor key’).   One of the things that I love about our church is that we have a value that urges us to experience authentic worship.  This means that we will try to face life’s realities and we will find ways of expressing our whole lives within the context of our worship.  True worship should connect us with reality.

The book of Psalms is the hymnbook of the people of God.  The psalms were sung publicly in the same way that we sing our modern hymns and songs in church.  Three out of ten Psalms are of lament, which means that they far outnumber any other type of songs in the Psalter.  Walter Brueggemann says “There’s an enormous temptation for ‘high faith’ to deny the dark side of life when things do not work …  against that common failure the psalms of lament make contact with the emotions of failure.”

The Bible is a very honest book.  It deals with every aspect of life, from life through to death…and everything in between.  The Bible teaches us that openness and honesty is the soil out of which we can grow true confidence and joy.

The ancient Israelites sang their songs of lament as worshipfully as they sang their hymns of praise.  They were able to express their emotional struggles as part of their worship, knowing that God would not turn His face away from them.  We will touch on both ‘personal lament’ (Psalm 51 & Psalm 130) and ‘communal lament’ (Psalm 137) today.  God delights in our passionate engagement with Him, and what He longs for is that all His children be real.

Our congregation wants to be a real community of faith that lives out the vision to be: A loving church, focused on the Gospel of Christ:

  •  reaching out
  • meeting needs
  • equipping people for service

We can only do this well if we develop an attitude to worship that embraces all the complexities of the lives we live in relationship with the God who created us in His image and for His pleasure.  The laments take us on a journey that always leaves us in no doubt that our times of suffering will be temporary, and the ultimate message of hope in the resurrection will move us back into praise and thanksgiving.  Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life.  In Him we can trust.

May Christ be your way, your truth and your life this week as you are reaching out, changing lives.

Rev. Brad Foote

The Heart of Worship (4) – Worship as Lament

Good Morning and welcome to Worship today.  We’d like to welcome the family and friends of  Dominik Arthur McGregor who is entering into God’s family, the Church, through baptism.  We also welcome the Youth With A Mission (YWAM) students who began their Discipleship Training School (DTS) a few weeks ago.  To others who may be visiting for the first or second time, welcome to you also.

Our Congregation has a vision statement that is:- “Reaching out, changing lives”.  This has motivated many people in the congregation to seek out an active relationship with God and with others (love God, love neighbor – Matt 12:29-31, Matt22:24-40, Luke 10:25-28).  As new people have joined the church we now need to revisit who we are and how we live out our vision and values and how we experience and express our faith and communal life (Growing in Christ & growing together).

Over the next 16months, the Church Council is guiding the congregation through a phase of developing four pillars as part of consolidation and shaping our identity as a Church, our mission and our witness.  The first pillar is Worship and we are in the midst of that journey now.  This week a  group of people (Church Council and congregation) gathered to discuss what Authentic Worship (one of our values) could look like here at Ashmore Uniting Church into 2014.  There will be a Congregational Meeting in November (possibly 17th Nov) to develop this further so that everyone in the congregation has an opportunity for the developing and shaping of our worship pillar.  It’s wonderful to explore what worship means for us at this time of our journey together.

Over the past six weeks, most of our messages have celebrated the joy of worshipping God (‘in spirit and in truth’ John 4:23) and developing our practice of worship into a daily, life-long, living experience  (Andrew’s sermon last week).  Today we will focus specifically on Lament as part of our life long journey of Worship.  We really cannot discuss the subject of worship without touching the issue of lament.  Lament is a ‘natural’ part of our lives, even though we struggle with this aspect of life in our Australian culture and ‘modern world’.

The Book of Psalms, the Psalter or the spiritual hymn book of Israel has 150 Psalms.  Three out of ten psalms are of Lament.  Focusing only on joy then, would not be true to life.  A close examination of the book of Psalms shows that psalms of complaint, confusion, doubt, and heartache significantly outnumber the psalms that focuses on joy.

This indicates to me that when we are being Authentic in our Worship and in our lives we will be able to express our emotional struggles to God as part of our worship, knowing that God will not turn His face away.  “Why, O Lord, do you reject me and hide your face from me?” (Psalm 88:14).  This is an honest cry from someone in deep pain who is reaching out to a God who ‘has a face’, who is real and is in a relationship with them.  This is not a cry made to a god of stone or a cry into empty space.  This is a God with a FACE.  (I know some people who cry out to the ‘latest god with a FACE’ – that god is face-book.)  I believe that God delights in our passionate engagement with Him, and what He longs for is that all His children BE REAL with Him.

This week has been Mental Health Week 7-13 October.  Our focus on Lament has been a deliberate part of our honesty and integrity to share in Authentic Worship today.

May you be ‘honest to God’ in your pain and struggles…this week….seek His face through His Book, the Bible.

Rev. Brad Foote