Tag: psalms

Singing a New Song

pianohymnbookLast Sunday we had an old-fashioned hymn sing at our church. For several weeks our members noted their favorite hymns, and our choir director collected and organized their requests. Last Sunday we sang the top 10 favorites, and we’ll sing the others during the future services.

My message that day was brief because we followed our hymn singing with communion as we always do on the first Sunday of each month. I departed from the lectionary to read an appropriate psalm —

“He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him.”-Psalm 40:3 NIV

After reading that short verse, I shared six types of new songs God has put in our mouths. My point was that the new song God has given us reflects who we are as God’s people in all the circumstances of life.

This new song is a song of praise.

This is what the psalmist says his new song is. No longer are we confused about who deserves our praise because the God of all creation is the only rightful object of our praise and worship. Charles Wesley penned the iconic hymn of praise when he wrote, “O for a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemer’s praise, the glories of my God and King, the triumphs of his grace.” But the new song is not only a song of praise.

This new song is a song of unity.

When we gather on Sundays for worship, we sing together, lifting our voices as one people because we are part of a community of faith. Unlike the exiles in Babylon, who asked “how can we sing the songs of Zion in a strange land” we are no longer strangers, we belong to the family of God, the community of faith, and our song is a song of unity. “We Are Called To Be God’s People” reflects not only our individual relationship to God, but our corporate, communal relationship as well.

This new song is a song of  justice.

We sing as celebration that one day God’s justice will prevail. In 2007, our church was asked to host the Martin Luther King Day service for our town. We were hosting the newly-formed Boys and Girls Club of Chatham in our church, which was the first racially-integrated afterschool program in our county. Both white and black worshippers filled our sanctuary on MLK Day for worship. At the end of that service, we joined hands and sang, “We shall overcome.” For the first time in Chatham, that song became, not just the song of the black community, but the song of justice for our entire community. Justice must be a part of our new repertoire of song because justice means that God’s will is being done on earth as it is in heaven.

This new song is a song of thanksgiving.

Gratitude for God’s blessings, for God’s grace, and for God’s mercy should be part of our spiritual songbook. At Thanksgiving we sing, “We Gather Together” and “Come, Ye Thankful People Come” but thanks to God for God’s blessings should be sung more often than once a year.

This new song is a song of lament.

The problem with what is now called “praise and worship” featuring rock bands and full-stage lighting is that it leaves no room for sadness and sorrow. The psalmists wrote songs of lament, sang them with heartfelt emotion, and offered them as prayers for God’s mercy and grace. We need to lament as we stand in God’s presence, even in the 21st century. Perhaps especially in the 21st century. Lent provides a time of solemn reflection and self-examination. “O Sacred Head Now Wounded” reminds us of Christ’s sacrificial death. “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?” asks in plain but mournful language for us to remember the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. We need to go to “dark Gethsemane” at times as prelude to the joy of Easter.

This new song is a song of confidence.

Christians hymns have always described our faith and hope in God’s presence now and in the future. “We’re Marching to Zion” asserts our faith that our lives have meaning and purpose, that we are on a journey whose destination is God. Songs that reflect the confidence we have in God’s love and God’s plan form the foundation for all the other songs in our Christian hymnody. Simply put, we sing because we believe. From the earliest psalms to the most contemporary musical expression, we Christians have sung our faith boldly and with great confidence.

The new song God has put in our mouths isn’t just one tune, with one theme, for all time. The new song God gives us reflects God’s presence in our lives at all times, in all places, and for all people. Sunday when you sing, think about what type of song you’re singing. Then connect that song to the work of God in your life and in the life of your congregation.

Finally, remember the instruction of John Wesley to “sing lustily and with good courage.” If you do, the second part of Psalm 40:3 just might become a reality — “Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him.”

 

Sermon: The Next Generation

Here is the sermon I preached this morning from Psalm 78:1-7, titled  The Next Generation.

The Next Generation

Psalm 78:1-7
1 O my people, hear my teaching; 
       listen to the words of my mouth. 2 I will open my mouth in parables, 
       I will utter hidden things, things from of old-

 3 what we have heard and known, 
       what our fathers have told us.

 4 We will not hide them from their children; 
       we will tell the next generation 
       the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD, 
       his power, and the wonders he has done.

 5 He decreed statutes for Jacob 
       and established the law in Israel, 
       which he commanded our forefathers 
       to teach their children,

 6 so the next generation would know them, 
       even the children yet to be born, 
       and they in turn would tell their children.

 7 Then they would put their trust in God 
       and would not forget his deeds 
       but would keep his commands.

 

A lot has happened since we were together last.  Most significantly, our nation has elected to the highest office in the land a person whose story is unlike any who have held that office before.

 

Political pundits and historians will debate and dissect this election for years to come, but one thing is clear — young voters gave overwhelming support to Barack Obama.  By margins of almost 3-to-1 18-29 year olds voted for a biracial 47-year old man with an African name, whose roots are in Kenya, who grew up in Hawaii, and whose mother and grandparents were from Kansas.  

 

In their book, Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube & the Future of American Politics, Morley Wingard and Michael Hais predicted that Millennials would help carry this election for the Democrats.  Here’s why:

 

    — 40% of Millennials (those born after 1982) are African-Am, Asian-Am, Latin Am, or of racially mixed backgrounds.  

    — Now 2x as many MIllennials as Gen-Xers, and already a million more Millennials than Baby Boomers.

    — Millennials are now becoming the focus of our entire society 

        — Only 500 books were written about the Gen-Xers in the 1970s

        — Already over 9,000 books have been written about the Millennial generation

  

Socially, Millennials are remaking our society in other ways as well:

    — Millennials are team players, preferring to work in groups than individually.

    — Millennials are connected to each other, even when away through text-messaging, cell phones, MySpace, YouTube, Facebook, and other social networking sites.

    — Millennials also volunteer and participate in community service programs at a higher rate than previous generations.  80% have done some type of community service in the past year.  

    — In Pittsylvania County, to become a Graduate of Merit, kids have to complete 140-hours of community service.

    — Schools and colleges are now as interested in a student’s social contributions as they are their academic achievement.

 

In cultural issues, Millennials are breaking new ground as well:

    — Race is transcended as friendships are forged across racial barriers.  With 4-in-10 Millennials of non-white races, kids have grown up going to multi-ethnic, multi-cultural schools.  

    — Sexual orientation is also not a big deal to this new generation — the culture wars fought over homosexuality by their grandparents seem strangely out of touch to today’s youth.  

 

Winograd and Hais — “The Millennial generation acquired a unique set of attitudes and beliefs in its childhood.  The upbeat optimistic attitudes of Millennials, their ethnic diversity and openness to non-traditional sex roles, their strong connections to family and friends, and their concern for the wider community will bring major and long-lasting changes to American society and politics in the years ahead…”  p86.

 

The Mandate of Psalm 78

 

As the writer of Psalm 78 extols the works of God, he realizes that the knowledge of God, reverence for God, and love for God are not just for his generation.  The psalmist reminds God’s people, who would read this Psalm in the assembly in the Temple, that the present generation has a responsibility to the generations to come:

 

We will not hide them from their children; 
       we will tell the next generation.

 

Economist are telling us that we are mortgaging our children’s and grandchildren’s futures by our failed economic policies.  Our national debt will be left to the coming generations, to those not yet born, to repay.  

 

Environmentalists are telling us that we are leaving an environmental disaster for our children and grandchildren.  Global warming’s effects are just now ringing alarm bells among our scientists and politicians.  The twin issues of energy and affluence have converged, and in the process of becoming the wealthiest nation on earth, we have sacrificed God’s good creation on the altar of our own comfort and convenience.  Our children and their children will pay the price for that selfishness.

 

But, those disasters are not the only legacy we are leaving to the Millennials and their as yet unborn children.  There is a darkside to what is happening to this generation:

 

According to Doug Stringer, founder of Somebody Cares, and author of the new book, Who’s Your Daddy?, Millennials are an at risk generation:

 

    — One-third of them have been drunk in the last month

    — One in four uses illegal drugs

    — One million are pregnant, and 1/3 of those will seek an abortion

    — Millennials see 14,000 sexual references in media each year, and a recent study announced this week that watching media depict sexual activity increases the likelihood that teens will also participate in sexual activity outside of marriage.

    — 40% have a self-inflicted injury

    — 1-in-5 has contemplated suicide, and over 1500 kids each year kill themselves.

 

Doug’s book title, Who’s Your Daddy? expresses the idea that this is a generation that is at risk of following the wrong guidance and influence in their young lives. 

 

Doug tells the story of friends of his who minister to street kids in Brazil.  Walking the streets of Rio one day, they stopped to talk to street kid, a boy of about 10.   When they ask him who is father was, the boy replied with the name of a demon, known in the folklore of Brazil.  

 

The Church is Failing The Millennials

 

The Psalmist warns us that we have a responsibility to the generations to come.  But today, we are failing that generation.  

 

— Although Millennials are more socially-conscious and more willing to volunteer to help others, religion and church do not have much appeal.  

— While 15-24 year olds make up 18% of our population, they are only 10% of our church families.

— Today the average worshipper in US congregations is 50 years old.  That’s 6-years older than the population average.  Our churches are increasing older, and increasingly out of touch with this new generation.

 

Dan Kimball wrote, They Like Jesus But Not The Church, based on his interviews with Millennials.  Many of them perceived the current church atmosphere to be judgmental, narrow, exclusive, monocultural, and hypocritical.  

 

While 60% of older adults claim religious affiliation, only 18% of Millennials say they belong to any religious group.  It is not that Millennials do not want to know God, it’s that the church as we know it today is getting in the way.  One pastor expressed this dilemma in marketing terms, “It’s not the product they don’t like, it’s our store.”  

 

What Is the Church To Do?

 

Why aren’t we reaching the next generation with the good news of Jesus?  I think there are lots of reasons:

 

1.  We haven’t tried.

2.  We don’t know who they are.

3.  We want to protect what we have.

4.  We think because we find meaning in institutions and traditions that others will also.

 

And the list could go on.  There are, however, hopeful signs.  

 

1.  Millennials are not resistant to God, just our way of understanding God.

2.  New expressions of church are emerging — 

    — skate park ministries are springing up around the country 

    — new congregations are attracting young adults to a more casual, informal and yet community-building experience.

    — new technologies that serve this generation can also communicate the good news to them as well.

    

Pollster John Zogby, in his new book, The Way We Will Be, says —

 

“That’s how you make contact with First Globals (millennials) — by opening doors, not closing them; by stretching your borders (the National Football League, for example, trying to make inroads in Europe); and by remembering as NASCAR  clearly does that while its present fan base might actually be solidly red-state, those Wal-Mart shopping GOP-voting, race-car enthusiasts have children who are growing up in a globally based online world where distinctions such as red state–blue state are increasingly meaningless.” -pg 118

 

Helping Millennials Find Their Spiritual Home 

 

When it became apparent that Barack Obama might win the presidency, I bought his memoir, Dreams from My Father, because I wanted to understand who he was and what had shaped his extraordinary life.  

 

The book is Barack Obama’s story of growing up in both white and black worlds, and of his journey to find his place in this rapidly changing world.  Part of that journey was Barack’s trip back to Kenya to meet the family he had never known.  Barack, which means “God’s blessing” traveled back to Kenya, and met his paternal grandmother, half-brothers and half-sisters, aunts, uncles, and countless cousins.  

 

Upon arriving in Kenya, plans were made to take Barack to the family home in the small remote village of Alego.  His sister told Barack they were going back to “home squared.”  Obama asked, “What does that mean?”  

 

“It’s something the kids in Nairobi used to say,” Auma explained.  “There’s your ordinary house in Nairobi.  And then there’s you house in the country, where your people come from.  Your ancestral home.  Even the biggest minister or businessman thinks this way.  He may have a mansion in Nairobi and build only a small hut on his land in the country.  He may go there only once or twice a year.  But if you as him where he is from, he will tell you that hut is his true home.  So, when we were at school and wanted to tell someboy we were going to Alego, it was home twice over, you see.  Home squared.”  

 

Our challenge is to help the next generation find their true spiritual home — home twice over — home squared.

 

The Next Generation is Waiting

 

This week I have been in San Diego where I led a conference  for small churches.  Over 50 conference leaders and speakers from around the world presented workshops to over 2,000 participants at the National Outreach Convention, an annual non-denominational event that offers insights into how churches large and small can reach their communities.  

 

Francis Chan, author of Crazy Love and a pastor, spoke that last night.  Now, I have to tell you that most of the time, those who lead conferences seldom go to the other conferences, or even the large worship gatherings.  Some have to catch flights back home, others just skip.  I have done both in my conference leading experience.  

 

Friday night, I debated with myself about attending the last worship session.  I had never heard Francis Chan, so wasn’t sure what I would miss if I didn’t go.  I thought about going to have a really nice dinner at a restaurant close by, but then decided I would go.  

 

Chan’s message was powerful.  The audience was moved by his challenge for those of us in leadership, those at that conference, to be fully, totally committed to Christ.  At the end of his message, he invited those who wanted seek God further, to come to the front and kneel in prayer.

 

Then, he said, “The conference leaders here will walk among you, lay hands on you and pray for you.”  He went on and on about the spiritual power of laying hands on someone — how God say the faith of both individuals and honored it.  And then he said, “If you want someone to pray for you, to lay hands on you — one of the conference leaders — come down to the front and kneel.”

 

Dozens of people — men and women — streamed down the aisles, finding a spot in the front of the stage to kneel.  Waiting for someone to touch them in prayer.

 

I’m sitting there thinking “I do not want to do this.  Who am I to lay hands on anybody?”  But then I noticed that no conference leaders were coming forward.  Nobody.  I was on the fourth row, and so reluctantly, I got up.  In my heart, I felt God say, “Do the work of an apostle.”  And so I determined to do it.  It was only later that I realized the verse actually says, “Do the work of an evangelist.”  But, maybe that I needed to do the work of an apostle that night.  An apostle is one sent from God.  

 

 About that time, another conference leader came from my left.  He and I were the only two out of 50 there!  

 

Slowly I began to move those kneeling on the floor.  Heads were bowed, they were waiting.  As I touched each person a profound sense of God’s presence came to me.  Some shook visibly as my hands were laid on their heads.  Others began weeping.  No one said a word, just the touch of one person encouraging another.  I moved through the crowd, laying hands on each person kneeling.  

 

As I walked out on the other side, an amazing thought came to me.  What if I had not been here tonight?  I would have missed the blessing of touching and praying for these people, and they would have had no one to touch them for God.

 

And then it hit me — there are many just like them, waiting for someone to touch them in the name of Jesus.  There is a generation yet unborn, waiting for someone to touch them in the love of God.  There is a generation of the brightest, most optimistic kids our nation has ever known, waiting for someone to connect with them, and touch them with the good news.  What if we are the only ones here willing and able to touch this generation for Christ?  

 

The psalmist says —

 

 

so the next generation would know them, 
       even the children yet to be born, 
       and they in turn would tell their children.

 7 Then they would put their trust in God 
       and would not forget his deeds 
       but would keep his commands.

 

Oh, remember the little boy on the streets of Brazil?  Today when you ask him who his father is, he just smiles and says, “Jesus.”