Saturday, August 25, 2012

Simple Steps to be "Missional"

One of the values of the Fellowship of Presbyterians and ECO: A Covenant Order of Presbyterians, is to have "Missional congregations." This focus is so important that it is one of the legs of the "three-legged stool" (I personally prefer triangles over stools) that props up both of these collaborations. So, here are a few suggestions, some simple steps to becoming more "missional" based off of my recent experiences and past study.

1. Define Mission

What is Mission? The Mission of God, Missio Dei, is to see the gospel proclaimed, the kingdom come, and personal adoption of individuals into the family of God (the Church) from every nation, tribe, and language. It's important to see all three aspects of the gospel. If the gospel is only the gospel proclaimed, then the best way to accomplish God's mission is through sermons, apologetics, street evangelism, perhaps showering areas with pamphlets that explain what the good news is. The gospel is reduced to an intellectual understanding of what God has done through Jesus Christ and people see no evidence of the kingdom of God or deep spiritual connection with Jesus. If the gospel is only the gospel demonstrated, the kingdom come, then the best way to accomplish God's mission is through social services, feeding the poor, healing the sick, adopting children. The gospel is reduced to a "social gospel" in which people see their lives improved physically but have no understanding of why we did what we did or any connection to Jesus. If the gospel is only experienced through a Gospel Community, then while people might have an individual experience of God and fellowship, they have no foundation in the Scriptures to evaluate their experience or feelings, and they don't see a need for a demonstration of the gospel in their communities. Mission is all three: Gospel Proclamation, Gospel Demonstration, and a Gospel Community so that the whole gospel is preached and each person Understands the Gospel, Experiences the Kingdom of God in the World, and Experiences the Spirit of God in community. If our "missional" efforts focus too much in one area, or lack any of the others, then we have reduced the Gospel. As we examine each opportunity for mission we have to ask ourselves, are we preaching the whole Gospel?

Here's an example. Let's say that your church is connected with a local feed the homeless program. That's wonderful! You sign people up and you go once a month and your people probably grow as they experience Christ in a whole new way of service out in the community. How effective, however, is this "mission" at reaching the homeless community? Primarily this would be a Gospel Demonstration. The chances are that the homeless community will not hear the gospel explained to them, and if they do, it will most likely not be from your people. Again, we've reduced the gospel, and you've effectively taught your people that their "job" is to do work, and let the professionals (like preachers) explain what it means to follow Jesus. The biggest gap here is probably Gospel community. The homeless community will connect with those who actually run the feeding program, but the chances of them ever really connecting with your church community is little if existent at all. There may be incredible stories of transformation, or maybe there aren't really any at all, but you and your community will never know personally except maybe through a newsletter, and your congregation certainly won't benefit from actually adding these to your own body of believers.

2. Gospel Demonstration done by the Church 

Very much related is the need to shift from a professional mentality to a priesthood of all believers mentality. Many people think today that church is done by professionals. For example, parents drop their kids off at school to be taught by professional teachers, they take them to their afterschool activity to be trained by someone who specializes, and then they may drop them off at youth group where a professional Christian trains them. Christianity has become so institutionalized that only the professional clergy have the knowledge and skills to do it right. How do I proclaim the gospel to someone? That's what we pay the pastor for. How do I have a gospel community? Again that's what we pay our church staff for. How do we reach out into the community? Well we give money to partners who specialize in their specific world changing activities. We support this mentality when we have a transactional model for our mission partners. A partner is someone who is fully engaged and connected in every way. Could you imagine telling your spouse that you will provide the funds and they will take care of all the work of raising the family? It would be nice if they would send you a newsletter every now and then telling you how your children are doing. While this is not the ideal for a partnership in marriage, neither is it in our mission partners whether local, regional, or international. The church can have vendors, organizations or people that they pay for products, but in order to be on mission they need to be involved themselves, sometimes with partners in the fullest sense of the word. When we remove our people and our responsibility to demonstrate the gospel we reduce our the call of our Lord and Savior to see His kingdom come, and we do our people a great disservice by teaching them that they are only financially responsible to pay for others to do the work of the kingdom rather than being a priesthood of believers.

3. Focus your Gospel (Mission) efforts

Almost every church, not matter the size, is already doing mission. Part of the problem is that there isn't a focus to our efforts. We have a budget that is divided up among X partners, based off of a number of factors, and each of our partners gets some of our money. Sometimes we have members in our church, each with their own projects or partners, maybe the local soup kitchen. The problem with being spread so thin in our efforts is that the more spread you are, the less impact there you actually have. This is a basic concept in nature that we use all the time and there are many examples. Have you ever seen a performer lay on a bed of nails? Why isn't that person impaled? There are so many nails that the pressure is spread out and no ill befalls them. However, if you removed all the nails, save one, and tried to lay down the force, focused on that one point, would puncture the skin. When we spread our missional efforts out it looks great to church consumers. They, in a cafeteria style church, have a wide variety of "partners" to choose from and see a church that cares about many issues. The example given at the fellowship conference was that they could give $10,000 a year to 10 different agencies, or they could plant a church. They found that planting a single church had more impact for the kingdom of God. A good model for focus is to have a Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and an ends of the earth based off of Acts 1:8. Have a single focus for mission in your city, or immediate community, your Jerusalem. Have single focus for mission in your region, our county, your Judea. Have a single focus for a cross cultural mission, not necessarily far, your Samaria. Finally, have a single focus for an international, ends of the earth, preferably an unreached people group (see below)

4. Gospel Declaration

One of the key things in a missional declaration of the Gospel is to realize that the people you are reaching will not understand your language even if they speak your language. My wife and I have spent a lot of time in the hospital and it still amazes us that a lot of doctors and nurses use language like "tachypneic" when explaining things to patients. Why not just say "fast breathing?" The same thing happens in our church sub-culture. We speak in language that only the other people who have been apart of the culture of church understand and we use words that have different connotations and connections for those outside of the culture. At the last fellowship conference someone laughed, from the pulpit, about concerns about the word "evangelical" in the name of ECO. How could anyone be bothered by the word "evangelical"? Last time I checked we believed in preaching the good news! Absolutely we do, but is it worth noticing that for the secular culture, the people we are trying to reach missionaly, that the word "evangelical" doesn't mean bringing good news. It has a variety of political connections and is a culturally loaded word. It doesn't mean we abandon what evangelical means, but we would do well to declare the gospel in the language of the people. When we go on mission to tribes that have never heard the gospel before, we take great care to learn not only the linguistics, but also the way in which ideas are expressed. We should take the same care as we focus on particular people groups in our own local communities. Ideally the Gospel will be declared 1. after gaining a hearing through deep listening and 2. through story telling.

5. Gospel Community, relational capacity and multiplication.

People are built for community. They long for it and yet many have trouble "doing community" on their own. 
In order to share this part of the gospel we must build gospel communities which will take on a variety of expressions. One of the key aspects to understand about a gospel community is "relational capacity." This is usually a part of the triangle that new church plants excel at and which small groups aim at regaining in larger churches. While designed for community, we each have a limit, a capacity, at which we can have deep relationships. It is not possible, or practical, for an individual to have the deep love one another relationship described in the New Testament with 300 people. Yet, we are designed to function  most effectively in the world, Gosepl demonstration, in groups larger than 10. Our Gospel Communities to regain the space in between small group (an intimate family space) and congregational worship (a public space, in the New Testament the gathering of all of the city churches). That inbetween space is often called today missional community, micro-expression, or house church. It is the space of extended family, at the upper edges of relational capacity. It is thus important to build into the very DNA of church plants, and micro-expressions of churches (missional communities) that when they reach relational capacity they should multiply. If someone has begun an effective community, rather than seeking to grow, grow, grow, they should seek to multiply their leadership. After all we want to see the kingdom of God come, not our own kingdom's growth. Finally, people need to experience sharing the gospel as a community. We can't expect to preach responsibility from the pulpit and then hope that people will go out on their own and individually do these things without any help. Communities in action together on a focused goal provide an environment where people are discipled not only through knowledge, but by apprenticeship, by doing. My favorite resource for Missional Communities is Soma. If you really want to dive into this, then go here and listen to the hours of training material they have. It takes some time but is well worth the investment.

6. The importance of Unreached People Groups

One of the primary dangers in describing everything that the church does as being Missional is a loss of the importance of reaching "unreached people groups", some call this "frontier missions." When everything becomes "mission" then nothing is "mission". When we describe all aspects of the life of church as being part and parcel of the Missio Dei, the mission of God, then often we lose the emphasis on what historically has been a call to reach all nations, not just the ones that are convenient. For example, if picking up my neighbor's newspaper for them and being friendly is being "missional" then why should I bother to support a missionary couple attempting to break ground in a Muslim nation? Certainly I would never take such a risk myself. I'm already doing missions! I'm a missional Christian in my own missionary field! The "Mission" of the church is to take the gospel to the ends of the earth, to every people group. As exciting as the new "missional" movement is in empowering our people to move from a Christianity that is a service preformed for them by professional Christians to an actual movement of living a life, in every aspect, to serving our Lord, our focus on unreached people groups must remain. An unreached people group is a group that does not have an indigenous church strong enough to evangelize its own people. 

I could keep going but hope that some of the basic steps give us a jumping off point to begin actually implementing a missional mindset rather than just understanding that we should.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Using Triangles to Understand Everything

So I'm currently in Atlanta at the Fellowship of Presbyterians event and listening around I can't help but see triangles. Now by the end of this post, you'll probably think that I have been watching too much Sesame Street with my 3 year old daughter, but probably it has more to do with sitting under Dr. John Frame at Reformed Theological Seminary who calls his obsession with triangles "triperspectivalism". Regardless of the source, triangles, I'm convinced, are a fine way to help structurally organize thought. They are simple, easy to understand, and provide multiple approaches to whatever topic may be at hand.

The basic format for any of these triangles is as follows: Normative, Situational, and Existential. You place the topic at hand in the center of the triangle and then you consider the topic from these three different angles. The Normative approach is the "normal" approach which includes the dogmatic or usual approach. The Situational approach is to consider the external circumstances, or the topic in context with the world, while the Existential approach is from a more internalized place. The first example should be both familiar and reinforce your love of triangles.

Our God is a triangle God. He is three distinct persons, Father, Son, and Spirit, and yet also they are all one substance, being God. In our triangle the topic, God, is placed in the center of the triangle and the we examine the three perspectives. Our normative or normal understanding of God, the dogmatic approach to God, is God the Father. He is the primary perspective considered in the Old Testament and He is from whom the Son and the Spirit proceed. Our situational understanding of God is God the Son. Jesus is God in our situation. He is sent by the Father out into the world, and into our context. Our existential approach to God is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the internal experience of God, the Spirit that resides within us, empowers us, and guides us in all wisdom.

Another great theological example is Jesus and his offices. So in this case the topic is Jesus, particularly the roles of Jesus. Jesus functions as Prophet, Priest, and King, these are often called his offices. There are people in the bible who fulfill these offices at different places in redemptive history but only Jesus fulfills them all. The existential approach views Jesus as Priest. He is the one who cares for the people, the individuals, and ministers to them by being the mediator between them and God. He is able to be our High Priest because He fully shares our humanity with us and has suffered temptation as we have (see Hebrews). Situationally, Jesus has an effect on the world. He functions as King and Lord, who sees his Kingdom come in tangible ways to all nations. Normatively, Jesus is Prophet. He came from God bringing the Gospel, the good news from His Father.

Here's an example of one that has popped up at the fellowship conference. The leaders here have referred to the new denomination (ECO) and the fellowship as being a three legged stool of common theological language, missional congregations, and covenant order. While the denomination is new and so is the "fellowship", this concept has been around for awhile and fits nicely into our triangle structure. Normatively speaking, this new expression of church wants to have an emphasis on dogma or doctrine. There needs to be  essential beliefs. Situationally, the church needs to have an effect in the world, the gospel needs to be demonstrated. Existentially, there needs to be a spiritual element, and internal covenant that binds the churches and members together much as the Spirit binds above. This is great, though I've seen it expressed differently, like Head, Hands, Heart or as Tim Keller mentioned Word, Deed, Community. One thing that we in FOP/ECO need to realize is that our presbyterian heritage and tradition have emphasized the normative part of the triangle. We are predisposed, so to say, to emphasize the intellectual and the doctrine. In fact, in one of the breakout sessions about being missional, the speaker told us that the primary way to equip our people to be missional was intellectual training: have them read a book, change the focus of our sermons, get them to intellectual grasp that they should be missional christians, and then off they will go. Because this is our slant, we would do well to focus on the other parts of the triangle to help bring more balance and indeed bring in more influence from outside our tradition who may be focused more on these other areas.

Here's an example of a sub-triangle when we focus on being missional. Normatively, yes we need a biblical understanding, a theology, of mission. We need our people to be educated on what it means to be missional. We, as presbyterians, will naturally focus here. Situationally, we need structures and applications of how mission is actually being done. What are actual world tested ways to see our people get involved and be discipled by doing rather than listening. Wouldn't a great "breakout session" be to take a group of church leaders out of the walls of the host site and see, touch, and feel what it means to be missional? Existentially, what types of spiritual food do our people need in order to be missional? How do we connect with the Spirit of God and see authentic, spirit led and reliant communities that want to be missional? What is the heart, in addition to the head and the hands.

I could do this all night, but let me leave you my last triangle which is the gospel. How do we effectively communicate the gospel? I think one of the answers to reaching those parts of our post-christendom culture is church planting a new micro-expression of church that many call missional communities. My heroes so far in this area are the triangle lovers at Soma Communities. Our church is wading into these waters now for the first time. Normatively, in order to communicate the gospel, it must be proclaimed. We must share the actual good news in real verbal forms. I think primarily this works best through story telling as alluded to in this conference and directly utilized by Soma. Situationally, we must, like Jesus, enter into the situations and realities of the people we wish to hear the gospel. With the proclamation of the gospel came the kingdom of God (another related triangle is Gospel Events, Kingdom of God, and Personal Salvation) and we demonstrate the Gospel when we heal a hurting world. Existentially, we love one another in our communities and "gospel" with one another. The world will know us, after all, by the love we have for one another. When we focus on one section of the triangle, we lose something essential.
I hope this triangle approach (much cooler than three-legged stools) might be helpful to someone out there. If anything it helps me crystallize my own thought to express it, but ideally it would help us to find a balanced perspective and be better for it.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Haiti, Day 2, July 22 2012

After our travel day, our first full day in Haiti was a Sunday which, by the way, works out really well since it gives people a day to recover from the exertions of travel, the emotions of seeing Haiti for the first time, and also allows you to slow down from the constant American drum of produce, go, go, go into a slower pace of life and flow that is Haiti. As a pastor, it was also great to see people practicing the Sabbath and is a great opportunity for team members to explore this aspect of the Christian life together and with the people of Haiti. Besides getting to slow down, it was also amazing to have the opportunity to participate in Haitian worship. 

CODEP, in and of itself, is not a soul-saving organization. What I mean is, if we take a three pronged view on what the Gospel is, Gospel Proclamation (preaching the Word and declaring what Jesus did), Gospel Demonstration (seeing the kingdom come through actually healing the sick,  feeding the hungry, and seeing justice for the oppressed), Gospel Community (Loving, caring, bearing with, etc... one another in community, being family), then CODEP is Gospel Demonstration purely. They see the Haitians as their brothers and sisters in Christ who already have heard the gospel (proclamation) and already participate through local churches in Christian community. 

So, on Sunday, we went to participate in worship and thus the local community of Christians not through CODEP's personal worship service, but with the Haitian Episcopal church literally next door. The service lasted about two hours and even though it was in another language and certainly lacking in creaturely comforts the experience was clearly one of whole hearted worship. It was providential that when I returned to Trinity Presbyterian Church on Saturday that I would be preaching the very next day on the joy of worship.The worship service had many elements that were the same as in the United States such as songs of praise, the Lord's prayer, readings from Scripture, a sermon, an offering. It was great that after the service was over our team had the opportunity to talk with a few of the church attendees. Apparently we had arrived just before the national exams so a few students who were able to speak English asked our team to pray for them as they had high hopes of doing well on these exams the next day. It was great hearing our team sharing with their brothers and sisters in Christ.In addition to talking some of our team hung around and sang songs with the only instrumentalist from the church (they were trying to save up to purchase more but currently only had a single acoustic guitar).

As we walked back to the compound, we had the opportunity to hang out on the beach for a little while with a few of the local Haitians. Ashley, the only teenager on our trip, was able at various times to hang out at the beach with the local teenagers. She had her hair braided and shared photos and videos from home on her iPhone. She was popular to say the least. Our team nurse, Diane, was able to see a roughly three year old little girl who wasn't feeling well and give some medicine to help her. The afternoon was spent relaxing and enjoying the Sabbath. It was great to see the team loving on one another and getting to know each other. It was also great that our baggage finally arrived from Insel Air and we were able to have access to all our supplies. That evening we walked down the beach and joined the folks at Samaritan's Purse in an evening service. It was good to see CODEP and Samaritan's Purse make connections and share some about their experiences. It was interesting to hear that there are so many Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Haiti and sometimes they are right next door to each other but because they are so focused on their own niches and efforts that, except during times like the earthquake, there isn't much communication or cooperated effort between them. Also during the evening the missionaries (Dale and Ingram Caswell) shared some of the basic information about CODEP. For those interested about the details you can watch some of the videos below. The next day would dovetail into this information as we would have the opportunity to tour the compound and see some of the sites of CODEP up on the mountain as we really began to get a grasp of our context.

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Thursday, August 9, 2012

Haiti, Day 1, July 21 2012

I recently returned from a trip to southern Haiti to visit one of our mission partners, CODEP. They are located in southern Haiti just west of Leogane, which is basically the closest named area to the epicenter of the 2010 earthquake. While this blog is being written two weeks after our return, I plan on trying to recount as much of our experience in a day by day format, as we experienced Haiti, to help share what we learned with others, prepare future teams, and hopefully see more support of this amazing organization.

Our first day was primarily a travel day as we left for Haiti at the crack of dawn. We had packed all of our things the night before and met at Trinity Presbyterian Church at about 3 AM. That's right, 3 AM. Our flight was leaving out of Miami, so we had a few hours to drive and wanted to make sure that we didn't miss it! Our team consisted of 10 different people, all of whom I got to know much better on this trip in a more personal and spiritual way. We flew with a company named Insel Air, which did a great job of getting us there but unfortunately, not such a great job with the luggage. We had each checked two bags weighing about 40 lbs each. Usually mission teams max out what they bring in because it is very difficult to get shipments into Haiti as the primary ports are owned as a monopoly by a few wealthy Haitian families, resulting in exorbitant shipping costs on top of a ingrained cultural system of bribes in order to receive anything at all. Our luggage, did not arrive with us on our flight. This has happened to me on both of my trips to Haiti on the way into the country, most likely because teams and people coming into Haiti try to max out their weight capacity. Insel Air currently only has one flight to Haiti so we had to wait a whole day without our checked luggage. This did, however, allow us to move easily through immigration and customs as we entered Haiti since all we had was our carry on baggage. Two of our team members, Jackie Spahr and Ed Enochs, work for Delta, so they had secured passage on a separate Delta flight (with all their luggage in tow!) so we had a few hours to kill in Port-Aux-Prince. We were very pampered by having an air conditioned van so we went and visited one of our other mission partners, Fishers of Men Ministries.
We, especially through our leader on this trip, Scott Cerasale, have been involved with FOMM from its founding days and every year our church family donates generously to help provide for the feeding program portion of this ministry. We got a tour of the compound and we're able to see the massive compound where FOMM had converted a former luxury hotel into a centralized ministry location. I say compound because most of the areas that have amenities are surrounded by various types of protection. Most homes and organizations had either barbed wire, or smashed glass glued to the top of the walls to discourage unwelcome visitors. The FOMM compound, and the Samaritan's Purse compound we visited later in the trip both had armed guards, who were very kind to us, but nonetheless were a bit intimidating with their firearms.

The CODEP compound was smaller, used conch shells on top of the walls (a similar function but different aesthetic), and had unarmed men who kept an eye on the entrances. We arrived at the compound, after picking up our Delta compatriots, sometime in the late afternoon. I was surprised to see that CODEP had beds, electricity, clean running water, and a prime beach location. We received a tour of the facility later in the week, so I'll relay more of that later. On my previous trip we had not had such luxuries and I was glad to know that we would have a place of rest to return to after our long days. This had been a long day of travel so we concluded our evening with an introduction to our hosts, Dale and Ingram Caswell, showers, an evening devotional and sweet deep sleep. This was a Saturday evening, so we looked forward, with anticipation to Day 2 in Haiti, and worshiping with the Episcopal Haitian church next door.

You can see all the pictures from our trip here.

Monday, August 6, 2012

A Sermon: "Thou shalt party unto me" - Nehemiah 12:27-47

You can listen to an audio version of this sermon here.

Please open your bibles to Nehemiah chapter 12, we’ll be looking at verses 27 through 47 today, and if you notice on the note page, we’ll be jumping around quite a bit as we gather the fruit from today’s text. This is the second to last sermon in our series on Nehemiah: Hope Builders – God will bless your discontent! It has been an amazing journey this summer through Nehemiah as we’ve feasted on God’s Word, learning about building hope through the model laid out by Nehemiah as he rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem and the covenant community of Yahweh. As we reach the end of the series, and the book of Nehemiah, today in chapter 12 we find a dedication and celebration of the completion of the wall. While the text for today recounts a specific event, the entire event has themes and foundations that help us with our own expressions of joy and thanksgiving in worship. As we read God’s Word together we find that Nehemiah dedicates the walls of Jerusalem through a diversity of participation and a diversity of expression that conveys an overwhelming joy and thanks for the hope that has been built through Nehemiah as an instrument of God and then our text concludes with the steps taken to sustain the joy and the hope that has been built.

Please read along with me the first few verses, 27-31, as we get a grasp for the context of our passage today and as we do, we’ll recognize that in our celebration of hope building and in worship we begin by dedicating all to God.

At the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem, the Levites were sought out from where they lived and were brought to Jerusalem to celebrate joyfully the dedication with songs of thanksgiving and with the music of cymbals, harps and lyres. 28 The singers also were brought together from the region around Jerusalem-- from the villages of the Netophathites, 29 from Beth Gilgal, and from the area of Geba and Azmaveth, for the singers had built villages for themselves around Jerusalem. 30 When the priests and Levites had purified themselves ceremonially, they purified the people, the gates and the wall. 31 I had the leaders of Judah go up on top of the wall. I also assigned two large choirs to give thanks. One was to proceed on top of the wall to the right, toward the Dung Gate.

So as we begin with our text, I want to focus on verse 27 and 30, noticing what this last half of chapter 12, everything else that we talk about, in Nehemiah is all about. Namely this is all about a dedication. We all know what a dedication is right? You hear them all the time on the radio. This dedication, Everything I Do, I Do it For You by Bryan Adams, goes out to a very special lady on her birthday today, Benita Weems, from her loving husband, Samuel. The song is dedicated, set apart, or given on behalf of whomever it’s being dedicated to. Maybe you’ve been to a dedication ceremony before.  The most recent famous dedication ceremony was probably the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial dedication where they had speakers, musicians, poets, and all sorts of things where the dedicated this monument to Martin Luther King Jr. So that whenever anyone goes to this memorial they think to themselves, this is here because of Martin Luther King Jr. This area and this artwork has been set apart specifically for Martin Luther King Jr. So what we read today in Nehemiah, is very similar, in that the construction, namely the wall is dedicated, it’s set apart, and it has musicians and all sorts of things going on, but the dedication isn’t to Nehemiah, even though he has done an amazing job of organization, leadership, and so on and this moment is the culmination of those efforts. The dedication is to whom? It’s to God. Nehemiah understands that unless the Lord keeps Jerusalem then the walls, and all his efforts, were built in vain. Nehemiah dedicates all his efforts to God because, as we’ve seen time and time again in this book, Nehemiah recognizes God’s hand in hope building and therefore sets apart his efforts to whom credit is truly due, namely God. 

We also recognize in verse 30 that it’s not only the wall that’s being dedicated here. It’s everything. Verse 30 says that the Levites purified themselves ceremonially, that is, they performed a ceremony, probably involving the sprinkling of water, much like when the tabernacle was originally established by God through Moses everything in the tabernacle and all the people were set apart, cleansed, purified, made holy, by sprinkling of the blood of sacrifices. So that’s what the Levites are doing, they are purifying themselves, setting themselves apart, but they purify not only themselves, but the people, the gates, and the wall. Everything is purified, everything is dedicated to God. We do well to remember that when we gather together to worship, part of what is entailed is an acknowledgment, a recognition that all of our efforts, whether they be physical buildings and walls, or the more intangible spiritual growth of the kingdom, that all those efforts and indeed all of ourselves are set apart, purified, and dedicated unto God. This is the beginning of worship. We were on a mission trip in Haiti last week and in the middle of the week we did a little lesson / VBS for the local children and when some of them came they wouldn’t come in, until they ran all the way home, took a bath, and changed into their nicest clothes. They wanted to cleanse themselves, and set apart through dress and preparation before entering the church and participating in the lesson. This is why, regardless of the three types of services offered at Trinity, all begin with an encouragement to confess our sin. It’s a moment for us to purify ourselves, to cleanse our conscience, as we set ourselves apart, renewing our commitment to be dedicated unto God in our whole lives and in all our efforts. This is whole-hearted worship, dedicating all, dedicating our life’s song, unto God.

This is how we begin, by dedicating all to God, with that motive and that heart, that whatever we are, whatever we have, whatever we do, is all for the glory of God (this verse is in your notes). And we find that when we begin with this, that inexorably, as though compelled irresistibly by the Spirit within us, we continue with an overflow of joy and thanks. Primarily this is what characterizes the dedication, joy and thanks. If you miss everything else about worship, don’t miss this, this is essential: joy and thanks. We see the word thanks in verse 27, the songs offered are songs of thanksgiving, in verse 31 the two choirs are to give thanks, in fact here and later in verse 40 the Hebrew word for choir is actually more literally just “thanksgiving” or “thankgivingchoir”, one word. They are choirs dedicated to giving thanks. The entire first section of our text, from verse 27 to 43 is bookended by the word joy. In verse 27 the text says that they celebrated joyfully and verse 43 has the word, as verb and noun, occur 5 times:

And they offered great sacrifices that day and rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with great joy; the women and children also rejoiced. And the joy of Jerusalem was heard far away. (ESV)

This passage should be seen foremost as a celebration. If you have in your minds the idea of giving thanks to God, of worshipping God, is a stilted and dead formality, then we’ve significantly lost a key element in our relationship with God. Worship is whole-hearted worship, it’s an overflow of the heart into joy and thanksgiving. It’s a celebration. God commands partying, that we party unto him, in honor of him, in celebration of the joy and thanksgiving we have because of God. You know the 10 commandments right? Where are they in the bible? (Deuteronomy 5) They first appear in Exodus chapter 20. They’re a great summary of the law, but after them come more laws about how the altar and sacrifices are supposed to work, about social interactions, and then in Exodus 23 there are laws about the Sabbath and festivals. God commands us to rest and in Exodus 23:14 says “Three times a year you are to celebrate a festival to me.” In other words, the God of the Old Testament, usually we picture as you know the “Thou shalt not” heavenly voice, says three times a year you’re to have a huge party, some that last for weeks, in my honor, in my name. Let’s have a party and rejoice in joy and thanks because I’m going to be your God and you are going to be my people. This is why one of the core value at our church, and part of the title of this sermon, is “whole-hearted worship”. If you take the newcomer’s seminar or if you go online under “Who we Are” and “Framing Our Vision” is our core values and one of the seven is “Whole-hearted worship”. Our stated goal at worship services is to help you celebrate with joy and thanksgiving, to worship God.  This is why there are three different worship services at Trinity, and a fourth evening service in the works, and why each one is a little different in format and style from the others so that as servants to this worshiping community we can offer people different ways of expressing the joy and thanks, the abundance and overflow of their heart in a diversity of expressions because we know that not everyone parties the same. 

This is the next point in your notes that we see in Nehemiah, that the overflow of joy and thanks is manifested in a diversity of expression. We read that in addition to human voice that there is music provided through various instruments. There are cymbals, harps, and lyres directly mentioned in verse 27 and trumpets in verse 35. Verse 36 says that a group is there with musical instruments prescribed by David the man of God. It’s worthwhile to note that even though David is some 500-600 years earlier that part of what Nehemiah is doing, is re-establishing worship by reconnecting with those practices established by king David during the height of Israel, such as the musical instruments in verse 36 and later again in verse 45. Yet while Nehemiah is obviously respectful of the forms of worship that followed before him, he also doesn’t use every instrument mentioned that preceded him. Here’s a picture of a number of instruments that occur in the Old Testament. This is from by the way, which I am in no way endorsing or saying is the epitome of Old Testament musical research, but it does provide great pictures and is easy to navigate. If there is anything heretical in there, it's not my bag. I don’t know if this is what you had in mind when you pictured these instruments, but you’ll notice the variety and also especially the ones that Nehemiah used were made for traveling, because as we’ll see the processions travel around the periphery of the wall. There’s the lyre, the reed pipe or flute, the frame drum also known as a tambourine, trumpets, the harp, above the harp are wooden clappers and bells, there’s the Ram’s horn or the shofar, cymbal clappers, shakers…shakers!? I always thought that shakers were for the musically challenged people like me so they could feel like they were part of the band. There are so many instruments to express the joy and thanks, the only thing missing really is it could probably have used some more cow bell. So most of these instruments David used, and yet our passage only mentions cymbals, harps, lyres, and trumpets. In other words, Nehemiah was connected to past expressions, but at the same time he felt free to draw on the diversity of possibilities to use music as a stimulus and expression of joy. He didn’t feel obligated to use every exact instrument and future generations didn’t cancel celebrations if someone forgot the finger cymbals. Indeed in our worship in Haiti there was a single acoustic guitar, and they worshipped beautifully with their voices and that. We here at Trinity, continue in that theme with voice, stringed instruments, wind instruments, and percussion just like Nehemiah did, but we rejoice in the diversity of expression we have from organs to electric guitars that help us express our joy and thanks.
Continuing with this thought we also notice in this passage that the overflow of joy is manifested in a diversity of participation. There are two choirs assigned in verse 31. Here’s a picture of basically the path each choir takes. Each choir is led by a prominent lay person, not a priest or clergy. The first choir is led by Hoshaiah and they follow the yellow path and the second choir is led by Nehemiah and they take the blue path. Each choir reaches those spots and then the text doesn’t say where but they meet up and enter the temple area together. Again, you’ll notice that Nehemiah isn’t legalistic in the dedication of the wall, as there’s a section that actually doesn’t get covered. So the choirs each have a prominent lay person leading them, all the other lay leaders are split up in half so that half go with each choir, each choir also has seven priests blowing trumpets, and eight levitical musicians playing the instruments and each choir has a director of music. So we have lay people, we have prominent leaders, we have priests, professional singers and musicians, and even professional directors of the music. There is a diversity of participation going on here, which again I hope we see here at Trinity as we have paid professional leaders, we have pastors who can sing – Pastor Benita for example has sung on occasion and will be the music leader for our night time service that is in the works, we have choirs dedicated to their crafts and of course we have times when we as an entire congregation sing together. By the way let me take a moment to invite you to participate in worship, not only by singing, but also in any of the myriad of opportunities to help people worship God with joy and thanks. We have a deep need for volunteers to work with the sound and powerpoint, or ushering, or being in the choir or helping to lead worship. One of my best moments was running the powerpoint at my last church. A little boy came to church that day with his family and told his mom: "Mom, I know that God is in this church." The mom was amazed! She thought a spiritual epiphany had occurred and asked her son how he knew this. He said "Because I saw him running the powerpoint, standing above the congregation upstairs!" Apparently, his image of God was a bearded white guy running the powerpoint. Who knows how God might use you in helping people worship God? If you feel called, just write on your communication card: I want to help others worship God with joy and thanks. Ok, plug for the worship teams is over. So again the overflow of joy and thanks is manifested in a diversity of expression and in a diversity of participation.
Now the dedication ceremony basically ends at verse 43, but if we read the final verses of our section we see that the expression of joy and thanks was not to be a one time event, but to be continually provided for. Read with me the final verses of chapter 12, 44-47:

At that time men were appointed to be in charge of the storerooms for the contributions, firstfruits and tithes. From the fields around the towns they were to bring into the storerooms the portions required by the Law for the priests and the Levites, for Judah was pleased with the ministering priests and Levites. 45 They performed the service of their God and the service of purification, as did also the singers and gatekeepers, according to the commands of David and his son Solomon. 46 For long ago, in the days of David and Asaph, there had been directors for the singers and for the songs of praise and thanksgiving to God. 47 So in the days of Zerubbabel and of Nehemiah, all Israel contributed the daily portions for the singers and gatekeepers. They also set aside the portion for the other Levites, and the Levites set aside the portion for the descendants of Aaron.

So what’s going on here? The people are tithing. The people are giving the first fruits, the first 10% off of whatever they produce and they are dedicating it. Much like earlier the walls, the gates, and all the people were dedicated to God, set apart to God, now the people are setting aside, setting apart a portion, the first portion of their income to provide for these times of celeberation, dedication, and worship. We make efforts to sustain the joy and thanks. The way that this community is able to have a variety of expression and a variety of participation is that, in verse 47, all Israel contributed the daily portions for the singers and gatekeeper and they set aside portion for the other Levites too, the other priests and clergy who took care of the temple and the worship of God. This is one of those things I usually hope doesn’t fall on me to preach about, because of the misuse and abuse that’s happened in the history of the church universal in the past and present with regards to finances, I don’t want people to feel like, especially if your visiting today for the first time, that I’m saying welcome to church, now give me your money. I can promise you that even if I didn’t have a full time ministry job that my life would be dedicated this, just as it was before when Pastor Benita and I were working 6 jobs between us, and I hope you all know how blessed we feel as pastors at this congregation where we don’t have to worry about paying our bills, or being able to afford rent, and how freeing that is to allow us to devote ourselves to ministering within this congregation and community. So we usually try to get an elder or someone from the congregation to remind us about this call on our lives, but here it is in the Word of God. If you haven’t thought about it before, think about it now. God may be speaking to you today about it.

We end here with how we began, by dedicating it all to God. We look at all that we are, all that we’ve accomplished, all of our physical building, and hope building, and we dedicate God and His kingdom. Then possessed by His Spirit we continue with an overflow of joy and thanks that manifests itself in a diversity of expression and participation and as we go forth we dedicate our best and make efforts to sustain the joy and thanks we have in our hearts.