A Walk Through the Worship Service — Part 2 (Prayers)

In this newsletter series, Pastor Bryan and I are explaining the purpose behind the elements of our worship service. Our service is not just based on what we’ve done in the past (although it is influenced by our Reformed and Presbyterian heritage), nor is it simply based on what will attract the most people (although we do want our service to be inviting). More importantly, our worship is based on how God instructs us to worship. We want to worship God in a way that pleases him. A well intentioned gift of peanut brittle to someone with a severe peanut allergy does not bring joy. In a similar way, even if our intentions are good, we want to ensure our gifts of worship are the type God actually desires.

This month we are examining the role of prayer in our worship service. One of the instructions the Apostle Paul leaves for the church is to pray when we gather for worship. (1 Tim 2:8) Thus prayer is a necessary part of our worship service, but the particulars of the prayers in the service will vary church by church. Let’s look at some of the prayers we offer in our service:

Invocation: This is the prayer that comes near the beginning of our service. This prayer is our response to the call to worship where God initiates a conversation with us. The invocation reminder us that unless God is at work, our worship will fall flat. This is important because people often think worship is effective if there is a great band or impassioned preaching. But such things–apart from God’s Spirit–are like the flash of a match that is lit but soon dies out. Worship’s effectiveness is found in God who fuels our (sometimes feeble) efforts to praise him. 

Prayers of the People: As a child I was always curious which elder would be doing this prayer, so that I could prepare myself for long how it would take! However, our purpose isn’t to bore children (or adults), but to pray for God to work on behalf of others. At our church we usually pray for people in the world, our state and our church. We try to model our prayers on the things we are told to pray for in Scripture. This certainly includes physical needs (Matt 6:11), but many of the prayers in Scripture focus on growth in godliness. Paul’s prayer for the Ephesian Church is a good example:

“I pray for you constantly, asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God.” (Eph 1:16-17)

Prayer for Illumination: God’s Spirit takes the words of Scripture and brings them to life.  The power of preaching is not in one’s speaking ability, but in God’s Spirit working through the preacher and through the minds of the hearers. 

Prayer as Discipleship

One other reason we pray in our service is to help teach others to pray. We have the blessing of having a number of people visit our church who have never been part of a Christian church. If I get the chance to talk with them I will often ask what they thought about the worship service. I frequently hear things like, “The prayers are different than other prayers I’ve heard... in a good way,” or, “When you pray you sound like you are talking to someone you know.” The prayers in our worship service have made people curious about our relationship with God. 

I was recently talking with someone who had no Christian background but through the ministry of our church is coming to know Jesus. She has struggled to pray, in part because she’s never done it out loud. But as we were talking I noticed that she listens to the prayers during the service. Our prayers are helping teach her how to speak to God in a way she never has before. This makes sense; children learn to speak by hearing others speak. Christians learn to pray by hearing others pray. This underscores the importance of prayer in our worship service, but even more, it shows us how important it is for Christians to be willing to model, through prayer, what a conversation with God looks like.

In Christ,
Pastor Jon

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