Friday, July 22, 2011

Is Jesus Enough?

Things I love; my mom, apple pie, baseball, Fourth of July parades, my truck, fishing, Harley Davidson’s, my wife, and my kids. Not in that order of course. I just wanted to get that out there so there were no doubts about where I was coming from as I write this blog article. Having said that, none of these things are my first love. I am a Christian, and my first love is Christ and He in all the fullness of the Trinity is the only one worthy of my worship. Yet here is my struggle, on Mother's Day, Father's Day, Memorial Day, Veteran's Day, opening day (baseball, or fishing) or even the Fourth of July I am afraid that we forget who our first love is. I am afraid that sometimes we forget why we gather to worship and for whom we have gathered to worship. In my experience on certain Sunday' a year Jesus is forced to share the center stage of our hearts for our worship. As a pastor I always struggle with planning worship on these Sunday's, I struggle with trying to find a balance between worshiping our God and honoring our veterans, mothers, fathers, children etc.

The easiest thing to do would be not to worry about it, but even in the free church movement we have an expected liturgy, unfortunately much of our expected liturgy on these Sunday's has more to do with cultural concerns than Christ. Very seldom (a.k.a. never) do I get a complaint that our services didn't honor Christ enough but hardly a Mother's Day, Veterans Day, or Fourth of July goes by that I don't hear, "Pastor, I was disappointed we didn't do more for our veterans, mothers, founding fathers, etc." I always want to ask, "wasn't Jesus enough? If all we had to offer was Jesus would you still come?" I never do though. I never do. Instead I re-read Exodus 32 and begin planning my vacation days, (Mother's Day. Memorial Day, Fourth of July, etc.) So what do you do? How do you deal with this in your churches? What advice would you give another Pastor? Is this even an issue for you?

I look forward to learning from you,



SusanU said...

I discussed this with my pastor recently. He focused more on God and less on Mother's, Father's and Veterans, etc in the year he's been here. He did have someone question why he did that but I told him that I really appreciated it. I don't have any great words of wisdom other than just keep on giving Jesus in the service and not the cultural stuff.

BThomas said...

Thanks Susan. I pray that more pastors follow your pastor's lead.

Eric + said...

I, like you, try to use my vacations wisely. When that can't happen (or I don't have enough vacation days) I "honor" the persons in question during the prayers of the people, praying a special blessing upon them. THen moving on to the Eucharist.

Eric + said...

Just realized I saw the flag cross image on the news today. One of the local School DS's was wearing it for an interview!

Paul Janssen said...

Given that the cross is an instrument of execution, doesn't putting the flag on the cross indicate the graphic equivalent of Jeremiah WRight's "God damn the USA"?

Obsidianbean said...

To me, it's not something to shun, though I understand being repulsed by a service that is entirely taken over by a cultural holiday. Here's why:
1. Topical sermons are okay sometimes. If you can give a sermon on patience, you can give a sermon on God's idea of how Christian parents should be. If you can participate in a themed sermon series or even a talk with the youth group, you can do a sermon that makes special application to a cultural holiday at the end.
2. It's good to bring Scripture to bear on every issue in our culture. Christian lives should not be compartmentalized, but thoroughly integrated. You've got a chance to demonstrate a balanced approach to mothers, fathers, patriotism, etc. Show how God affirms these things, but calls them to certain standards, so it's not a blanket endorsement of just any old approach to them. Culture is not the enemy, it needs to be embraced and leavened. Indeed, one of the main features of Christianity is to love people and things even though they currently have problematic characteristics. Love and celebrate the good aspects while critiquing the negative aspects. These subjects are good things to address anyway. And it's not like they want to have a pornography Sunday or anything like that. They want to celebrate things that are appropriate for Christians to affirm. (If you don't think that Christians should affirm patriotism--not jingoism--then maybe the real issue is not whether or not "culture" should be incorporated into the service, but the fact that your culture regarding patriotism is incompatible with the culture of your congregation--another topic altogether.)
3. Celebrating or honoring important social roles doesn't necessarily entail worship or putting these things on par with God. Do you ever honor high school graduates or kids as they move up the ranks of Sunday School classes as part of a morning service? I've never felt like merely including these kinds of things in a service automatically took God's share of our worship.

To me the issue is not "should these things be there," but "how do we strike the right balance." You don't want to preach a sermon that only applies to a sub-group of the congregation because everyone else is liable to feel like they're wasting their time. You also don't want to let those other subjects become the theme of every aspect of the service. It's important to explicitly set these cultural interests in the context of God and His concerns about these matters. Show them how Christians ought to integrate with their culture in a way that is God-centered, biblically-based, and doesn't confuse the cultural elements with biblical teaching. Use the flag cross as an illustration of an unhealthy inability to distinguish between patriotism and Christianity if you want.

Possible solutions in addition to what others have offered:
1. Preach a normal sermon on your preferred topic, but make it a little shorter, leaving some time for a special time of prayer or encouraging/honoring thoughts for mothers (or whatever). This clearly relegates the topic to secondary status, but still expresses appreciation, etc.
2. Save your comments on the day for the announcements time. (But maybe doing this was what prompted the comments about not doing "enough"?)
3. Have a potluck meal or some treat after the service in honor of the day. Say a few words at that time. Maybe that would be a good time for a themed song (as opposed to singing it in the service).