Oct 14, 2019
Join us as we explore God’s ancient wisdom and apply it to our modern lives. His word is as current and relevant today as it was when he inspired its authors more than two and a half millennia ago. The websites where you can reach us are alittlewalkwithgod.com, richardagee.com, or saf.church.
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Thanks for joining me today for "A Little Walk with God." I'm your host Richard Agee.
My church is going through change, as are most churches across the country. In fact, if your church isn't, it is probably dying. It's part of the life cycle of every living organism, including churches. If they are not changing, evolving, adapting to the needs of those around them, they are no longer necessary and just go away.
The problem is that some of us who have been around for a long time would really like things to be like they were when we came into the church a long time ago. We want what brought us in. We love the old preaching, the old furnishings, the old music. Ah, there it is. The one thing that seems to divide more people than any other single item in most congregations. The music.
But we can't go back. Do I like the newest stuff on the market? Let me read you a letter to a pastor to which I think some of you might relate.
“I am no music scholar, but I feel I know appropriate church music when I hear it. Last Sunday’s new hymn - if you can call it that - sounded like a sentimental love ballad one would expect to hear crooned in a saloon. If you insist on exposing us to rubbish like this - in God’s house! - don’t be surprised if many of the faithful look for a new place to worship. The hymns we grew up with are all we need”
“What is wrong with the inspiring hymns with which we grew up? When I go to church, it is to worship God, not to be distracted with learning a new hymn. Last Sunday’s was particularly unnerving. The tune was unsingable and the new harmonies were quite distorting.”
Surprisingly, these letters date back to 1863 and 1890 and opposing the introduction of the songs, "Just As I Am" and “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” See, we don't like things to change. Yesterday's hymns disrupted centuries of chants, which disrupted centuries of psalms. Today's praise choruses disrupt our couple of hundred years of hymns. We just don't like change. We like things the way they've always been.
As I said earlier, though, change is necessary if we survive. Without change, we die. And we can't go back to the way things were. The past is gone, and the past can never return. As much as we might long for "the good old days," they probably weren't as good as we thought. For sure, they were not good for many, as the letter quoted early pointed out. We also have a tendency to remember only the good and not the bad when we remember things dear to us.
The Israelites had the same problem. The northern kingdom went into exile in the eighth century BC because of their apostasy. You'd think the southern kingdom would begin to listen to their prophets but think again. Two hundred years later, the southern kingdom fell to Nebuchadnezzar's army, and the nation's most notable, wealthy, and young found themselves carted off from their homeland into exile.
The exiles longed to return home. They bellyached to God about their pitiful plight. They complained about losing everything. The Israelites prayed and whined and cried. Then God sent a message through Jeremiah that the Israelites didn't really want to hear. The words come from a letter to the elders that we find in Jeremiah chapter 29. We like to use verse 11 out of context and use it to talk about the prosperity God will bring to us. "'For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'"(NIV)
But in front of those words, Jeremiah had a little more to say from the Lord. God had plans, alright. They would stay in exile for the next 70 years. His plans didn't include a short stay in Babylon and then freedom from the reign of Nebuchadnezzar. God didn't intend for the Israelites to own the promised land again for a long time. In fact, it wouldn't be until 1948 that Israel would be self-governed once more.
Before verse 11, which we use so poorly, Jeremiah wrote these words: "Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare."(NIV)
So what does that have to do with music and change? A lot. God told the Israelites to be content in the place he put them. They didn't like Babylon, but they would be there for a long time. They didn't like the food, but if they didn't eat what grew there, they would starve. They didn't like living under the oppression of a pagan government, but that government offered them protection from other marauding nations.
I'm sure those who came from Jerusalem would love to go back to their old ways of doing things, but it just wasn't possible. God said to get on with life and worship him where they were. Give him praise and honor and glory where they lived to enable those around them to see that he was still the unchangeable God of all creation.
So what does that mean for you and me as we face changes in the church? I don't like the music. So what? If God can reach out to the next generation through music they are more comfortable hearing, then that must become my favorite worship music in the services. It's not about me, it's about worshipping God in the community of believers. I want more of the next generation present in those services. If Lazy Boy recliners become the next thing instead of pews, that's okay. Do I like it? No. But if it helps bring the next generation to worship, it's the best thing since sliced bread. It's not about me, it's about worshipping God in the community of believers. I want more of the next generation present. Do I like sandals and shorts and t-shirts as the standard dress in worship? I didn't grow up that way and think it's okay to dress for God the way we would dress for work, but if more of the next generation will worship with me in sandals and shorts and t-shirts, the dress code doesn't matter as much as the presence of God in our service. We would probably be offended by Jesus' appearance if he walked in the door, too. Ancient Mideastern clothing would be a tad out of line for us today.
So what is important? Not the style of music. Not the traditions and rituals that create barriers in worship like the order of service, the form of prayer, the furnishings, and decorations. None of those matter in the long run. Those are just fads, maybe centuries old, but still not crucial. What is essential to worship is meeting God together with other believers. Lifting his name in adoration and praise in whatever way is meaningful to the group as a whole. However, we elicit his presence among us for a time of celebration with him is what matters most. The rest of it might make me more or less comfortable, but I can suffer through just about anything to be with my Christian brothers and sisters in holy fellowship for a little while. After all, Jesus hung on a cross all day so we could do just that. Don't you think we could suffer through a song or two without complaining? Our mission reminds me of an old hymn title that might be appropriate in closing, "Bring Them In." What will it take to do that? Change is sometimes necessary.
You can find me at richardagee.com. I also invite you to join us at San Antonio First Church of the Nazarene on West Avenue in San Antonio to hear more Bible-based teaching. You can find out more about my church at SAF.church. Thanks for listening. If you enjoyed it, tell a friend. If you didn't, send me an email and let me know how better to reach out to those around you. Until next week, may God richly bless you as you venture into His story each day.
Scriptures marked NIV are taken from the NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION (NIV): Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION ®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™. Used by permission of Zondervan
 Charles Keown, The Controversial Organ, March 4, 2014