Scratching the Surface of the Psalms
“Your Church’s Future”
Not long après the inaugural Pentecost sometime around A.D. 30, Karen McClenthen began her ministry at our family of faith occasionally known as First Presbyterian Church on the corner of Lincoln and Main in Belvidere, Illinois.
While she will always be a year older than me and has Benedictine stability in that she has never served in any other ecclesiastical capacity, I’ve been ordained a few more years than she’s been employed at First.
Well into the second decade of ministry avec her, I know my place as highlighted by a letter printed in our December 2018 newsletter: “A big thank you to Karen McClenthen and Mary Taylor for the beautiful luncheon at the bazaar and for all their hard work putting on the lunch after the concert. What will we do without them?”
Nobody has ever written anything like that about me in a newsletter; though I think the sentiment goes something like this: “What will we do with him?”
Actually, I’ve known my place in the lives of pewsitters and other church-dwellers since my first session meeting not long after May 8, 1977: “If I die on Sunday afternoon, there will be ham and cole slaw in Fellowship Hall on Wednesday and people lining up on Sunday to get on the pastor search committee so they can get the pastor they really wanted before I arrived.”
Getting back to that first session meeting, I’ll never forget an elder’s reaction to my first pastor’s report that included recommendations for the church’s future: “If you think we’re going to do any of that, you’re crazy!”
Getting back to my boss, I think I’ve only had one really, uh, challenging moment with her over the years.
Karen was, uh, commenting on how hard it is to get volunteers for some things and how some of our own family members don’t show up for special stuff and…
Catch the drift?
Well, I said we’ve got to stop longing for the way things never were
or maybe were but are no more: “You know, Karen, all churches are having a hard time paying the bills and filling the pews and getting volunteers and dealing with inflated egos and my-way-or-the-highway types, irregulars, irascibles, irreconcilables, and…I work with a lot of churches and pastors and, really, we’re doing a lot better than most and…”
Kindly, she interrupted me and lamented, “But this is our church.”
My heart ached for her…and me…and you…and anyone who remembers when…
Truth is Jesus and church and worship and…just ain’t what He used to be to most Americans these days.
Not speaking dispensationally, the church age is over.
American churches are becoming like churches in Europe - an afterthought except when someone dies or wants to get married or wants to get little Johnny or Susie done aka baptism or there’s a terrorist act or tornado or flood or…
That really hit home for me when I went home for Thanksgiving and preached at the Forty Fort United Presbyterian Church across the Susquehanna River from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania (11/25/18).
Despite one of the most faithful and humble pastors that I’ve ever met – William Lukesh – the church is farther down the road in the concerns raised by Karen about what’s becoming increasingly challenging on the corner of Lincoln and Main.
Pastor Bill loves Jesus by the book and preaches to 5-7 folks on Saturdays at 4:00 p.m. in a church about a mile from his and then leads worship for another 2-10 saints on Sunday at 9:00 a.m. in a church about ten miles from his before doing the same for my parents and maybe 25 more in Forty Fort at 10:30 a.m.
Again, I work with a lot of churches and talk to a lot of pastors and it’s all the same regardless of franchise, ideology, theology, socioeconomics, demographics, and so on.
Churches in America are dying; and from the latest reports, well over a thousand are closing their doors every month.
It’s not about trying to find a different way to do church.
It’s about doing church when most people don’t want to do it anymore.
Yes, there are exceptions to the rule; yet exceptions to the rule are called exceptions to the rule because they occur so infrequently that they are called exceptions to the rule which means it is prudent to play by the
rules even while acknowledging the exceptions.
Psalm 33 is helpful in approaching the future of your church in a cultural environment when church just isn’t as important as it used to be.
Psalm 33 is about being church as the Korean and WWII generations go home to Jesus and younger generations aren’t inclined or able to pay the bills if they come at all.
Specifically, Psalm 33 reminds us of the church’s continuing purpose regardless of the cultural response.
Simply, the church will always exist to praise God from whom all blessings flow.
Whether the times are good, bad, or otherwise for the church, people who get Him - understand who He is and who we are as His and what He has done for us and our salvation by grace through faith in Jesus – will praise Him as creative Father, sustaining Spirit, and saving Son.
The primary purpose of the Church is to worship God with all of its ministries fueled by worship.
The most mission-minded churches in the world are the most worshipful ones; for being close to God is expressed through feeding souls and bodies.
Matthew 25 ministries come supernaturally to those who worship God.
Getting closer to God makes us more Godly; and when we’re more Godly, we’re more involved in the kinda things that He modeled in Jesus with grace, mercy, forgiveness, and agape as exclamation marks of fidelity.
God inspired David to write Psalm 33 for “righteous ones” and “the upright” or those who are intimate with God and want to please Him in all things at all times in all places with all people.
That’s what defines a saint – a person who knows God and wants to make Him known by confession, conduct, and countenance.
This psalm encourages saints to “sing for joy in the Lord…give thanks to the Lord…sing praises to Him.”
Peterson’s paraphrase of the opening verses of the psalm are spot on: “Good people, cheer God! Right-living people sound best when praising.”
David highlights some of the reasons why we praise God.
We praise Him for the beauty and splendor of His creation: “The skies were made by God…He breathed the word and the stars popped out. He scooped the sea into His jug…He spoke and there it was, in place the moment He said so.”
We praise God for being God and history being His story: “God takes the wind out of Babel pretense. He shoots down the world’s power-schemes. God’s plan for the world stands up. All of His designs are made to last. Blessed is the country with God for God.”
We praise God for saving the faithful: “Watch this! God’s eye is on those who respect Him, the ones who are looking for His love. He’s ready to come to their rescue in bad times. He keeps us together, body and soul, in lean times.”
We praise God because all blessings flow from Him: “We’re depending on God. He’s everything we need. “
When we understand those reasons for worshipping God, every worship service is a privilege as well as necessity and responsibility.
When we understand we worship God because He so obviously is to be worshipped as God our creative Father, sustaining Spirit, and saving Son, every worship service is filled with attention, allegiance, affection, energy, excitement, and anticipation of existential graces to overcome whatever the world throws at us and eternal assurances of paradise immediately after the last breath.
The music and message and all of the rest come to life in Him as soon as He is alive in us; and David said that means worship among the authentically faithful is never tired or old or ignored or taken for granted because it seems like “a new song” as refreshingly repeated by the repentant and redeemed.
Alexis de Tocqueville was a 19th century French diplomat who traveled across America to find the cause of our strength and reached this conclusion in Democracy in America (1835): “I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers, and it was not there. I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her fertile fields and boundless forests, and it was not there. I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her rich mines and her vast world commerce, and it was not there. I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her public school system and her institutions of learning, and it was not there. I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her democratic Congress and her matchless Constitution, and it was not there.”
His punch line: “Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because America is good; and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”
In short, as David sang and every honest observer has had to conclude, a people’s peace and prosperity are inextricably woven into the fabric of faith expressed in praising God from whom all blessings flow.
Only the dimwitted or demonically oppressed to possessed cannot see America’s decline is linked directly to the decline of America’s churches.
America’s renewal depends upon the renewal of her churches.
Your church’s future will go a long way in determining America’s future.
I’ll never forget how humbled I felt when I heard about Pastor Bill Lukesh’s Saturday and Sunday worship schedules.
I’ll never forget how hopeful I became when I overheard him pray from the balcony as he walked alone through the sanctuary below not long before worship, “I thank You for this day to worship You. I thank and praise You for…”
Your church’s future depends on your passionate participation in worship.
Everything else that your church does will be fueled by the vitality of your worship or starved by your inattention to worship.
Your church’s future depends on worship.
So does your country.
That’s what Karen, Pastor Lukesh, and David have been trying to tell us.
Blessings and Love!
Wake up! Look up! Stand up! Speak up! Act up for Jesus!
Shatter the sound of silence!
Salt! Shine! Leavenate!
Shatter the sound of silence!
Salt! Shine! Leavenate!
Pastor Bob is right in that we often mistaken what Church is for us. Where I humbly disagree is that Church is not place in particular. Whenever, where ever believers gather to pray in the Name of Jesus, absorb His message and break bread together the Church is. Church is believers coming together to share that belief. Whether we gather in someone's home, as they did in the early days, or gather on the corner of Lincoln and Main, we are what makes Church real. We do not gather just to make ourselves feel goodm, or for a Pastor to always lift us up, we gather because we are followers. As followers we need to hear the words that Jesus, spoke, the things He did in showing us to live and forgive. We need the voice of the Apostles who were charged with sharing the Light of His message in their own way, to a new generation. Pastor Bob understands we constantly need to rehear the message of Jesus, whether it makes us comfortable or not. So gather as a people, in His Name, and be the living Church.
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