A Walk Through the Worship Service — Part 1

The other day I saw an advertisement for a certain brand of apple cider, and I learned that there are over 600 varieties of apples, each with its own characteristics that can influence the taste of cider, favorably or unfavorably. In order to get the best tasting cider one has to pay close attention to the varied qualities of the apples used. 

If you’ve spent any amount of time in Christian churches, you might feel sometimes like you are choosing from a wide variety of ciders. A worship service might be sweet (enjoyable), bitter (legalistic), bitter-sweet (good sermon, bad music), bursting with flavor (exciting and exuberant), or complex (reverent). Of course, the “flavor” of any individual worship service has as much to do with the attendee’s preferences as it does the service itself. In much the same way that you might prefer Granny Smith over Fuji apples, you might have acquired a taste for a certain “flavor” of worship. 

Scripture, however, does not treat worship as a matter of personal taste, but of spirit and truth (John 4:23). Even if there is room for variety, judging any particular worship service based purely on our personal preferences over-against those of others reduces worship to interactions between people, rather than seeing it as a meeting between God and his people. With this in mind, we’re going to spend some time over the next several months talking about our worship service — what we do, and why we do it — so that we can begin to see worship for what it is: God meeting with us by means of his word and sacraments, drawing attention to the worthiness of Christ our Lord and Savior, and our responding in thanksgiving and adoration.

The Call to Worship — God Invites His People to Glorify and Enjoy Him

When speaking of the Lord’s Day, puritan theologian John Owen said, “All duties proper and peculiar to this day are duties of communion with God. Everlasting, uninterrupted, immediate communion with God is heaven.” Although we often think of being in the presence of God as something that we only truly get to experience in heaven, nearly everything that is true of God’s relationship with his people in heaven is true of God’s relationship with his people today. This means that heavenly worship can happen today (Hebrews 12:22-23). 

Communion with God is and always has been something that he initiates and carries out through his speech. It was the case with Adam (Genesis 1:26-28), Abraham (Genesis 12:1), Moses (Exodus 3:4; 20:1), and culminated in God speaking to his people in his living Word, Jesus Christ (John 1:14; Hebrews 1:2). The consistent pattern in Scripture is that when people try to initiate a relationship with God apart from his word, it results in idolatry and confusion, but when God initiates a relationship with his people by his word, fellowship with him is established and blossoms.

With this in mind, our worship service on Sunday mornings begins with a call to worship from Scripture. Through his word, God invites his people to glorify and enjoy him. The selected passage will always be one which draws attention to the magnificent attributes of God, the benefits he offers to his people, or the honor that is due his name, and will sometimes instruct God's people to draw near to him accordingly. Often, this passage will come from the Psalms, like Psalm 95, “Come let us worship and bow down.” As easily, it might be a New Testament scripture like 1 Peter 1:3, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!” Since worship is always responsive — God speaks to us and we return praise to him — we will often read portions of these passages aloud together. 
 

The Benediction — God Blesses His People With His Continual Presence and Power

In a similar manner, when we conclude worship on the Lord’s Day, we go with a word of blessing from God. He is the beginning and the end, and he has the first and final word in the Call to Worship and Benediction. “Benediction” just means “good word,” or “blessing.” Although you will often see people closing their eyes during the Benediction, it is not intended to be a prayer of the people to God. Rather the Benediction recognizes God as the final gift giver. So being, the minister will often lift his hands as way of signifying that God pours his blessing out on his people. There are many benedictions in Scripture (Romans 15:13, Hebrews 13:20-21), but they all share the common sentiment of Numbers 6:24:26: “The Lord bless you and keep you…” He blesses, and we are blessed. 

One could say that worship is about seeking what tastes the sweetest to us, but not in the same sense as choosing red apples over green ones. Rather, it is an invitation from God to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8). To realize that we are not blessed by what we bring to God in our variety of worship, but by what he gives to us as he speaks to us in and through his word.

I hope this helps as you think about why we do what we do at JVC, and that you will have a sense of God’s presence as he meets with us every week. 

In Christ,

Pastor Bryan

You're Invited!

 
Missions weekend.png

 

I'm excited to invite you to our annual missions weekend! I look forward to this event as we hear about how God is at work through the people and ministries we support.

As a church, you get to decide how much we give away for missions. I'm thankful that we have such a generous church! Because of your support we will be giving away almost $16,000 towards missions efforts this year! That is more than 14% of our estimated budget. On Sunday, October 29th, we will collect missions pledge cards for 2018. These cards indicate your prayer and financial commitment to our missions efforts for 2018. Please prayerfully consider how you would like to support missions for the upcoming year. 

Our missions speaker is Brian Tsui. He grew up in a Chinese American household where the family religion involved worshiping ancestors and other Buddhist practices. Through the ordinary witness of Christians and the Church, Brian came to know Jesus. He now serves as the Campus Minister at San Jose State University where he shares the gospel with people from many religious backgrounds. Brian is passionate about being a faithful witness in a place where Christianity is not part of the dominate culture. 

In Christ,

Pastor Jon

Schedule

  • October 28
    • 5:00-6:00PM – Missions Dinner (catered by R&R BBQ)
    • 6:00-7:30 – Missionary updates and missions devotional. (Childcare provided)
  • October 29
    • 9:45-11:00 – Missions worship service and collect missions pledge cards.
    • 11:30-1:00PM – Missions potluck (please bring a side or dessert to share)
    • 6:00-7:00 – Joint Reformation Service at JVC with all the other PCA churches in the area. (Childcare provided)

Ministries We Supported in 2017:

  • Gospel Presbyterian Church & Lifehouse Ministry
  • City Presbyterian Church
  • Crosspoint Presbyterian Church
  • Reformation Carried Forward by Kenyans Pastor's Conference
  • Pastoral Internship for Kenyan Amos Omia (Starting in Jan 2018 at Jordan Valley Church)

The Reformation and Missions

On October 31st, 1517, a monk in his mid thirties named Martin Luther published his ninety-five thesis, accusing the Catholic Church of misconduct. Initially Pope Leo X dismissed Luther as another drunken monk. But the Papal theologian Prierias was not so dismissive. He quickly published a response, Dialogue Against the Arrogant Theses of Martin Luther. Luther’s thesis had struck a nerve and would change the course of western history. 

This October marks the five hundredth year since the Reformation. October is also when we host our missions conference. While the Reformation is not often associated with missions, you could argue that the Reformation was missional. Prior to the Reformation, people lived according the mantra facere quo in se est (do what lies within you). It was the idea that salvation is tied to your personal effort. The medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas taught that grace does not do away with nature, but completes it. In other words, grace works hand-in-hand with your effort to make you acceptable before God. But this only led to anxiety. People wondered, ‘have I done enough for God?” Many priests would answer that question by simply saying, “try harder.” And the priests provided many opportunities for people to give more to the church in order to further their own righteousness. 

The medieval book Hortus Deliciarum (“Garden of Delights”) depicts salvation as a ladder of virtues. God greets those who make it to the top by handing them a crown of life. Each rung of the ladder represents another virtue that one must acquire to earn salvation. There are demons all around, ready to shoot down all who try to climb up. On the side of the ladder is written, “Whoever falls can start climbing again thanks to the remedy of penance.” 

It was under this system that the continent of Europe lived, including the young monk Martin Luther. Luther was determined to do his best. But as Luther reflected on all that effort he realized, “[T]hough I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience... I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners.” 

Luther and the the other reformers lived in a mission field where churches were prevalent, but few knew of God’s gift of salvation. The people lived under a system that understood righteousness as something you needed to earn, and grace worked in conjunction with your own effort. The reformers’ message flipped all of that on its head. Instead they showed a burdened and weary people that righteousness is God’s gift through faith, that grace is given before they do anything on their own. 

The Reformation was about missions. The reformers had to establish gospel-centered churches and leadership where none existed. They had to educate a whole people about the basics of the real gospel message. It’s because of these things that I’m excited that we are commemorating the 500th year of the Reformation alongside our missions conference. In order to better understand the impact of the Reformation and how it applies to us today we will be doing a sermon series looking at the five key teachings of the Reformation: scripture alone, faith alone, grace alone, Christ alone, and God’s glory alone. During Sunday school we will be diving into some of the historical context around each main doctrine that came out of the Reformation. I’m excited for this series, and I hope you will join us for the sermons and Sunday School.

The final sermon in this series, “To God’s Glory Alone”, will be preached by Brian Tsui at our Joint Reformation Service at 6pm October 29th. We’ve invited all the other PCA churches in the area to come, and we are excited to fill our building with other believers, worshiping with the same liturgy those Christians used back then. After learning about the Reformation in our series, we will get to experience it and see how the theological and practical issues of the Reformation influenced how those believers (and we today) worshipped. 

I’m excited about the many things we have going on in October and look forward to seeing you there. 

In Christ,

Pastor Jon
 

Reformation Month Schedule
1 Oct - God’s Word Alone
8 Oct - Faith Alone
15 Oct - Grace Alone
22 Oct - Christ Alone
28 Oct - 5:00-7:30PM Missions dinner with our missionaries. 
29 Oct - 9:45-12pm: Missions worship service with lunch afterwards
29 Oct 6:00-7:00pm God’s Glory Alone: Joint Reformation Service with all the other PCA churches.

Five Reasons we like Kids in Worship

One unfortunate trend in churches is the increasing age segregation of worship. Children are placed in kids’ programs from an early age and can even grow into adulthood having never worshiped with people of different ages. Even if we could have the most exciting kids’ ministry possible during our service, we wouldn’t want to do that. Why? Because we believe letting our children worship with us is one of the best ways for them to learn to love God. 

Here are five reasons why we like our children to worship with us:

 

We will all worship together in heaven.

Dividing up people by ages for worship stands in direct contrast to the picture of ideal worship we see in Revelation 7:9:


After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. 


The picture of heavenly worship is marked by both unity and diversity. While there is no reference to different age groups, the principle is clear: heavenly worship involves all God’s different people worshiping together in unity. We should ensure our worship reflects this ultimate worship service. 
 


It helps children see the world is bigger than them. 

When children worship with others, they learn that life is about more than just them. When a child grows up in an environment that caters to his or her needs, it can subtly teach that the world revolves around them. But Christian worship means taking our eyes off ourselves and focusing them upon God. When we exclude children from our worship, we miss out one one of the few places where our lives are put into perspective as we encounter a living God. 


 
It gives your kids an opportunity to see your love for God. 

Many of us desire to have some type of family devotionals, but it’s hard. Life is busy. Participating as a family in worship on Sunday mornings gives your children an opportunity to see your love for God. Your kids notice you singing and listening to God’s Word. When they see your eagerness and love of worship it rubs off on them. Remember how many bad habits our kids pick up from us! Kids are natural imitators. Why not let them learn some good habits from us? Why would we miss out on the opportunity for our kids to mimic our worship of God? If children never worship with parents, they miss seeing them practice what they preach. 


 
It allows your children to see a community loving God.

When children participate in worship they get to see other members of God’s family express their love for God. A parent's faith isn’t just something that they’ve made up, or do in isolation. In other words, our faith is not just something our family does, but something a community participates in together. 
 


God works through ordinary means

There isn’t a simple five-step plan to ensure children grow up to love God. One of the tenants reformed worship is that God works through ordinary means. Through God’s word, prayer, and the sacraments, God brings extraordinary change. These are simple things, things that will constantly be attacked as outdated or out of touch. Indeed if it were simply about how powerful these things were by themselves they would be outdated! But God promises to use our ordinary acts and combine them with his supernatural power to bring real change in people's life. It’s not about our skill (or lack of it) that brings genuine Christian growth. The public worship service is one of the places where God’s ordinary means of grace all show up. We trust those are good enough to bring real spiritual growth in adults. But they are also good enough to bring real spiritual growth in children. Why would be want to take our children out of a place where God promises to work? 
 


Concluding Thoughts

We don’t want to be a church that is only welcoming to those who are committed to keeping their kids in Church. Many factors can make this difficult for families. For some, the idea of kids in church is new. Others are single parents or come to church without a spouse, and it’s hard to both manage children and participate in worship. Children have different temperaments, and some will struggle more than others. As church we want to be sensitive and welcoming to all families.

We think of children's ministry during the worship service as a series of steps to help our kids make the jump into worship with everyone else. The first step is nursery for children up to three years old. Here, children get used to coming to the church and start building relationships with other children and people here. From ages four to six they can participate in a program called Stepping Stones where they stay through the first half of the worship service. This gets them used to being in the service without having to sit through all of it. The third step is for children over six. They participate through the whole worship service, but we offer snacks and kids’ bulletins with worship related activities to help children stay engaged. These are all optional; in the end each family decides how they want their kids to participate in worship. 

Every one of us makes a big difference too. Parents notice when we have a welcoming attitude toward kids in worship.. A loving smile or word of encouragement helps a parent who worries about the noise their child is making. In the end we want to be a church that reflects God’s kingdom when we worship. And that means people of all different backgrounds and ages coming together to show our love for the God who is making us new. 

In Christ,
Pastor Jon

Christianity Is a Team Sport

This past Sunday we started a series through Nehemiah called “Forward.” In the opening chapter Nehemiah hears of the struggles in Jerusalem. It is striking how much Nehemiah identifies with these distant people. Their problems are his problems. Their sins are his sins. This thinking is the opposite of the individualistic way we approach spiritual growth: “If I’m spending some time reading my Bible and praying, I’m good.” But Nehemiah’s spiritual health is tied to the spiritual health of all God’s people. The theologian Don Carson says, “Lone ranger Christianity won’t make much sense of the book of Nehemiah.” 

In our sermon on Sunday I challenged each person to ask if they are living as if Christianity is an individual or a team sport. The book of Nehemiah and the rest of Scripture show that Christianity is much more of a team sport than an individual one. 

David and Goliath – 1 Samuel 17

Growing up in the church, I remember being taught the story of David and Goliath. Afterwards, my friends and I tried to create slings.  We all dreamed of being like David, defeating giants with only a stone and sling. (I never did face a giant, but it there was one window that didn’t survive!)

Fun as that was, the story of David and Goliath makes more sense through the lens of a team sport. It’s like a sudden death shootout at the end of an overtime soccer game. The star player kicks the ball, bottom left corner of the net, score! The whole team wins! David’s success (or failure) against Goliath was the success (or failure) of all the Israelites. If David won, Israel won. 

When we read it this way, we see the story is less about us being like David and more about how a true hero brings victory for all the people. That takes us right to Christ, whose victory over a power even greater than Goliath--evil itself--brings victory for us all. In fact, our salvation is only possible if we see this is a team sport. 

The Body of Christ – 1 Corinthians 12

In this passage, Paul describes the church as a body made up of people with different gifts. Often people interpret this as Paul speaking about a single church, made up of various people with various gifts. But we know Paul is speaking of all Christians because in verse 13, he addresses those who were baptized “into one body by one Spirit.” Paul is talking about all who have been baptized with Christian baptism. He goes on, “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” (12:26) Think about this literally. If you break your big toe you can’t just go on functioning like everything is fine. It affects all of your life. Paul's point is that all believers have this organic connection. We cannot ignore the pain of other Christians any more than we can ignore the pain from a broken toe. 

Growing In Christ  – Ephesians 4:15-16

Here Paul tells us how to talk to Christians who are carried away by every new teaching or belief: “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”  Every Christian has a responsibility to grow in Christ, and we grow in Christ by speaking the truth in love. In other words, while officers of the church ought to equip people for ministry (Eph 4:11-12), all Christians ought to speak truth in love to each other. Every one of us has this responsibility. God’s model for the church is not to have a few people who provide spiritual care; no, every person is called to ministry. In other words, the Christian life is a team sport. 

Implications

There are many implications from these passages, but I want to focus on the question I started with: are you living as if Christianity is an individual or team sport? A simple diagnostic is to look at how are you invested in the spiritual growth of those around you? Husbands, we cannot say we are doing well spiritually if we are not investing in the spiritual growth of our wives. Parents, likewise, we cannot say we are doing fine if we are not invested in the spiritual growth of our children. And for every member of the church, our spiritual health is tied to the spiritual health of those around us. So what impact are you having on the spiritual growth of those people around you? Are you praying for their growth in Christ? Are you speaking the truth in love to them? Small groups are a great way to be invested in the spiritual growth of others. Each person in our church, from the youngest to the oldest, has the ability to make an eternal impact in someone's spiritual life. 

All this ties into our vision; we are on a journey to know Christ. My dream is that we would be a church where, when we make it to the end, we will look back and see that we made it not so much because of any one person, but because of our community and the thousands of often small things we did to encourage one another in Christ. 

In Christ,

Pastor Jon