Monday, January 25, 2016

More than a song

“Be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, always and for everything giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father…”
                                              -                   Ephesians 5:20

Friends of Atonement,

             I admit it – I love music.  This love goes way back – I found an old picture of me about 3 years old wearing my dad’s clunky headphones, listening intensely to some recording, probably on an actual vinyl record.  I’ve always loved hearing different styles of songs and symphonies.  I remember being so amazed at the varieties of sounds produced by voices and instruments and the magical way they fit together to form a piece of music.  Even back then, I was into everything from the Beatles to Gilbert and Sullivan, and after all these years I am still a fan.

            But of all the music in this world, there’s nothing that tugs on my heart strings like good old traditional Christmas carols.  This Christmas season at Atonement, we sang “Silent Night”, “O Holy Night”, “Angels We Have Heard on High”, “What Child is This?”, “O Come All Ye Faithful”, “Joy to the World”, “We Three Kings”, and many others.  These melodies are so familiar, but like the Gospel story itself, they always seem fresh each time we hear them. 

            I’m delighted that Atonement is a place where these old hymns continue to be sung and continue to find a place in our hearts.  Some churches have moved away from traditional church music, and I feel bad for worshippers who rarely hear the classic compositions that have nourished the faith of so many generations.  The songs we sing in worship are more than beautiful melodies, they also contain timeless teachings and lines of devotion that you can take with you and pray during the week.  All you have to do is think of the words to “Amazing Grace” or “How Great Thou Art” and pretty soon you’ll find yourself praying in your heart – addressing God with wonder and gratitude.

            Each season of the church year has its own songs and melodies, its own musical mood.  As the New Year pulls us out of Christmas and into Epiphany, we will be singing some classic songs like “Shall We Gather at the River”, “As the Deer”, “In the Garden”, and “Beautiful Savior.”  There is a certain amount of nostalgia that is stirred up by these songs, but with the memories comes an awareness that the God who is the same through all ages continues to be our guiding light today, and that even the same old song can be made new by the way you sing it.  Like Paul tells us in Ephesians, we are to make melody to the Lord with all our hearts, caught up in our thankfulness to God.

            We at Atonement are so blessed to have excellent musical resources and leadership.  Between Ruby and our choir, the “two Kens” – Ken Hanks our keyboardist and Ken Watts our praise band director, plus the praise band members and various soloists, we are able to present a variety of musical offerings at a level of quality that is surprising to find in a smaller church.  Thanks to your continued faithful giving to God through your tithes and offerings, as well as your strong support of our ministries, we are able to give our paid musicians a well-deserved 2.5% raise this year.

            Giving itself is a kind of praise.  It’s easy to sing God a song, but when we make an offering we’re giving God more than lip-service.  It shows that God really has priority over our lives.  There’s a beautiful song called “Heart of Worship,” which goes:

            I’ll bring you more than a song, for a song in itself
            Is not what you have required
            You search much deeper within through the way things appear
            You’re looking into my heart
             I’m coming back to the heart of worship,
            And it’s all about You – it’s all about You, Jesus

When we give to God, we are responding to the joy he gives us in countless ways.  Singing hymns may take us away to heavenly places, but our giving brings us down to earth where God calls us to share His love with others.

            Thanks again for all you do to praise, serve and share Jesus.  Thanks for the love in your heart, and for giving more than a song to the One who gives us everything. 

Pastor Scott

That other commandment...

“The Word became flesh” – John 1:14

             And suddenly a new year is upon us – new goals, new dreams, new plans and expectations…  So many new things before us, but the same old problem: we’re stuck being the same old us.  Same old relatives on your back, same old body full of aches and pains, same old bills coming round every month.  So while we may hope for a better time around this year, we have our secret doubts.
            Doubts are a natural product of our human ability to reason.  Our brains like to analyze, to think through situations, work out probable outcomes and calculate probabilities.  We imagine the worst even while hoping for the best, just to keep from being too devastated by disappointment which might be lurking around the corner.  Doubt is also a product of sin.
            Stephen Colbert recently pointed out that Jesus actually commanded us not to worry.  And it’s true.  “Do not worry,” our Lord tells his audience at the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:25).  Do. Not. Worry.  But this is said in the midst of a long speech about God’s wonders, so we treat it more like a casual piece of self-help advice, not like the 10 commandments graven onto stone and handed down to Moses from on high.  Truth is, this is a command from God every bit as divine and important as those top ten – because it’s really just another way of stating commandment #1.
            If you remember those commandments, the first one is the biggie.  It’s the commandment that serves as the bedrock foundation for all the rest: You shall have no other gods.  That’s gods with a small g – little things we worship and obsess over -- things that occupy our minds and fill us with doubt and worry over what big-G God has already said he’s got a handle on.
            So when God tells Abraham that he’s covered, he doesn’t need to worry about who his heir will be for his wife Sarah will have a child in her old age, “Abraham believed God and that faith he had was counted as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6).  And when baby Isaac was born, it confirmed to Abraham that God’s Word was more that a prediction or promise – it was a completely trustworthy statement of fact. 
            This is why Luther said that when Isaac was born, God’s Word became flesh.  Although the Bible applies the phrase “Word became flesh” to the birth of Christ, it is really true that when any of God’s promises come about, that Word takes on the flesh of physical reality and becomes visible to all.  What had once been surrounded by worry and doubt now by hindsight becomes a given.
            So this year, let’s put aside our doubts, worries and little-g gods and believe the promise.  The babe in the manger is the Word that has stood from all time, who points us to a future where all sin and sorrow are swallowed up in love and grace.  Instead of pursuing our dreams, let’s go after God’s dream.  Instead of being the same old us, let’s open our lives to be transformed and renewed… re-made from the inside out in the image of the one who came to earth to give himself away. 
            How will Atonement be renewed and revitalized in this new year of 2016?  Oh, we have our plans and ideas for new programs.  We have new staff to hire and new worship services to develop.  But ultimately we’re here to bring about God’s future, not our own.  We begin this new year with God’s Word, living around, in, and among us, working through us and speaking to us.  He has given us a promise: “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).  Let us live with complete trust in this promise, and behold the Word made flesh.


Pastor Scott