Marc Vandersluys

Why Do We Sing in Church?

Tomorrow morning we will gather at Malmo again, as we have been doing faithfully for 125 years or so, to worship together through fellowship, prayer, scripture reading…and singing.

Singing has been a part of Christian worship since the first Christians gathered. In fact, some parts of the Bible are widely believed to be taken from early Christian songs of worship. For example, Philippians 2:6-11 is often referred to as the “Christ Hymn”:

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. (NIV)

These stanzas contain not only generic praise to God, but they tell a story—the salvation story, in fact: God becomes human, dies on the cross, is raised from the dead and made Lord and Messiah.

But why do we do this? Why do we sing together in church, especially when some people don’t like singing or think they don’t have a good voice?

I can think of several reasons, and none of them have anything to do with being able to sing or carry a tune: singing brings glory to God; it helps us remember the gospel story; it is modelled and encouraged (even commanded!) in scripture; it brings believers together and encourages them (have you ever been at a concert or worship event where thousands of people sing along together? There are few things more unifying and beautiful).

(There are more reasons, I’m sure. In fact, here are a couple of further explanations for Christians singing that I have come across that you might find helpful: “The Three Rs: Why Christians Sing” and “Seven Biblical Reasons Why Singing Matters.”)

So as we gather tomorrow and in the weeks to come, consider: can I choose to participate in worship, including the singing, even if I (think I) don’t sing very well, even if I don’t fully understand why we do it?

Author and pastor Eugene Peterson wrote, “Worship is an act that develops feelings for God, not a feeling for God that is expressed in an act of worship.” Often we talk about worship, and especially the singing part of worship, as an expression of our feelings for God. That may be true, but there are some people who do not express their feelings for God in that way, and there are some days when my feelings for God are not great.

In a much more important way, whatever our feelings may be on a given day, our singing praise, our singing the gospel, plays a significant role in transforming us bit by bit over time, through low seasons and high seasons, as individuals and a community, into the people of God…if only we will open ourselves up—both our mouths and our hearts!

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Helping our children embrace faith

This morning I came across an article in the latest edition of Faith Today (May/June 2017**) called“Help Your Kids Embrace the Faith.” It’s a short article reflecting on the experience and findings of a 22-year-old Christian in relation to the question, Why do some children remain faithful to God and why do others rebel? 

As parents we want more than anything for our children to commit themselves to Jesus and his kingdom. But we fear this not happening, so we take steps that in the end are more about making faith happen in our kids (a fearful response) through what in the end amounts to control. This is not, it seems, conducive to healthy, long-term faith in our children. Instead, the writer suggests that we best facilitate faith or make room for faith to grow (a loving approach) though authenticity, trust, and openness, among other things—helping faith rather than forcing faith. These appear to be the hallmarks of Christian parenting and families with children that have remained faithful.

Of course, these are not a guarantee. There are all kinds of factors at play in our children’s spiritual development that we are not aware of, but generally speaking the approach of gentleness and love seems to be more successful than a demanding and legalistic one. In any case, this short article will at the very least provoke some thought about the ways in which we instil faith in our children. In addition to hardcopies available at the church, you can find the article online here: “Help Your Kids Embrace the Faith.”

(The author, Rebecca Gregoire Lindenbach, is releasing a book on the subject in October. It’s called Why I Didn’t Rebel: A Twenty-Two-Year-Old Explains Why She Stayed on the Straight and Narrow—and How Your Kids Can Too.)

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**if you are a regular attender you would have received a copy in your church mailbox and there are extra copies on the Malmo table)

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Another year gone by!

Last Wednesday Malmo Community Youth Group had their year-end party, which included a wiener roast, a water fight, and a giant slip-n’-slide. God answered prayer: at 4:00 it was overcast and cool, by 5:15 there were barely any clouds in the sky and the sun was shining warm and bright. We have a lot of fun at this party every year, and as leaders we had conflicted feelings of both sadness and relief!

Thanks to our youth for making this a fun year! We wish you all the best through the summer. Remember: be a neighbour!

It was another good year for our youth ministry. We had an average of 36 youth on Wednesdays (sometimes breaking 40, other weeks not breaking 30), from all over the place and various stages of faith. This last bit—various stages of faith—has been both exciting and challenging for the leadership. How do we challenge the youth more mature in the faith but also encourage those at early stages to go deeper? This, it seems, is the eternal challenge of youth ministry.

As I was preparing for our last evening together, I did some rough calculating about how many people were in one way or another involved in this ministry, and the number is impressive:

Leaders present on an average youth night: 8
Substitute leaders on call: 3
Leadership/planning committee: 4
Other “unseen” ministries: 7
Number of unique cooks throughout the year: 39

There is some overlap between the different categories, but that’s 61 different roles involved in our youth ministry, and this doesn’t include everyone who helped with socials and all of you who prayed for the youth ministry throughout the week and especially when the call went out on Facebook on Wednesday nights! This tells me that we have a community behind this ministry in many different ways, and we are grateful.

Of course, numbers aren’t everything. A gathering of 5 youth with a leader would be an equally valuable ministry. The numbers speak mostly of support.

So, thank you to each of you for a great year and for your support. Please continue to pray for our ministry as we say goodbye to some of our leaders and discern new leadership as well as what’s next for this ministry.

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Christmas week readings and 2015 devotional resources

Below is a reading plan for Christmas week for families or individuals. Take some time to reflect on the Christmas story this week.

Read the passage and encourage your kids to make observations (e.g. “did you notice anything new?”) or ask questions about the story. If they stump you with a question, it’s okay to say, “Good question! I don’t know.” You don’t have to have all the answers. Ask them some questions, too.

Monday: Luke 1:1-25 – The birth of John the Baptist foretold
Tuesday: Luke 1:57-80 – The birth of John the Baptist
Wednesday (Christmas Eve—you could spread these reading out over the course of the day or read one at each meal):
Matthew 1:18-24 – Joseph’s story
Luke 1:26-38 – Mary’s story
Luke 1:39-55 – Mary and Elizabeth
Thursday (Christmas Day): Luke 2:1-21 – Birth of Jesus
Friday: Matthew 2:1-12 – The visit of the Magi.
Saturday: Matthew 2:13-17 – Escape to Egypt

Looking for some devotional resources for 2015? Here are some options:

The Covenant Home Altar – This is our denomination’s quarterly daily devotional book. We have some copies available on the Malmo table in the foyer and the copies for the new year should be here soon.

Our Daily Bread – Another quarterly daily devotional. You can read it online every day at www.odb.org or you can order the quarterly booklet from the same website.

YouVersion – the YouVersion Bible app for smartphones has many daily reading and devotional plans available (including Our Daily Bread). Get the app here: www.bible.com

The Revised Common Lectionary – A weekly Bible-reading guide used by millions of Christians and churches around the world (including Malmo!). Visit www.lectionarypage.net

For a variety of other Bible reading plans, visit www.biblegateway.com/reading-plans or www.backtothebible.org/bible-reading-plans

 

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Parents Praying for Our Youth

We are excited about sharing an opportunity to gather together and pray for our youth and youth program. You are invited to come out once per month (the first Wednesday of the month) for a simple soup meal followed by prayer and fellowship. This will happen at Randall and Lauralea’s house (the parsonage next to the church), so those of you who are dropping off youth can just walk over and settle in for an evening together.

We are starting on December 3 from 6:00-8:30pm (the same time as our youth program). The rest of the dates are: Jan 7, Feb 4, March 4, April 1, May 6, and June 3.

We are very excited about intentionally lifting up our youth to the Lord in prayer as a community of parents and possibly grandparents and adults friends as well (who are welcomed wholeheartedly). It is not an easy world to grow up in; we desire to focus time and attention to prayer of this nature.

Please contact the church if you have any questions.

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Gathering to prepare for Advent.

We live by several calendars. There’s the regular calendar, based on our movement around the sun and the phases of the moon. There are a variety of sports calendars: whenever the hockey or football season starts. There’s the school calendar, running from September to June. There’s the holiday calendar: Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, Mother’s Day, summer holidays. Our lives are shaped by these calendars; we make plans around them and in both large and small ways, they shape who we are.

There’s another calendar that we don’t often think about: the calendar of the church. The church has historically had its own rhythms based on God’s time: rhythms of rest and activity, of fasting and feasting, and always of reflection on the story of God’s work in the world and in our lives. It can be difficult to reconcile the church calendar with all the other calendars that draw our attention.

Advent is just around the corner. It’s the start of the new year for the church and a chance to start again, to reorient ourselves towards God’s time. But the Christmas rush is around the corner, too: school programs, parties, shopping, and all the other busy-ness of the season. Every year I intend to make Advent a quieter time of reflection, of slowing down, of focusing on what the season is really about, and every year I still get caught up in the seasonal rush. It’s probably the same for you.

Why not start this year’s Advent with your heart and mind focused on the coming of Jesus? Join us on Saturday, November 29, as we explore what it means to wait in expectation for Jesus, who will bring in God’s Kingdom, where God’s time will forever be our time as well. There will be eating, group activities, and reflection on Advent scripture readings.

We’re gathering on Saturday, November 29, from 11:30 to about 2:00 at Malmo. A catered lunch will be served. Come expecting fellowship, fun, and to have your heart focused on the coming of Jesus. If you’d like to join us, let us know on Sunday (so we know approximate numbers for the caterer).

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Youth Kickoff

It’s hard to believe that it’s time for youth again, summer seemed to go by so quickly. But here we are and we’re excited for what this year will bring! This year will include all of those things our youth have come to love and expect: meals together, games and activities, and Bible study—friendship, fun, and faith—and we pray that we will grow closer to God in the process.

Our goal is to learn to follow Jesus together in relationship and Bible study (Matt. 28:19-20). This year we will have several sr. high and jr. high small groups looking at Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7) and asking the question, what does a disciple of Jesus look like, and what does that mean for me and my life? We hope that these conversations will encourage, inspire, and transform our young people, and that these conversations will carry on at home.

The Malmo Community Youth Group Wednesday night Bible study kicks off tonight at 6:00: supper, games, introductions, and a devotional from Pastor Marc: will you be wise or will you be foolish?

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In favour of simple and direct prayer (we don’t need to be heroes).

I’m sometimes frustrated by my prayer life, which, when I compare it to what I think I know of the prayer lives of others (that’s probably my first mistake!), feels like it’s weak and shallow. Maybe you feel the same way about your own prayer life, wondering what it takes to be a “prayer warrior,” as some call it. Dallas Willard has some encouraging and helpful things to say to us. It’s maybe a bit of a long quote, but stick with it. I think it’ll be helpful. It might just be that being a “prayer warrior” (if you like that term) is not about length or depth or heights, but about simply starting to pray and doing so honestly and consistently.

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“Prayer, like all of the practices into which Jesus leads by word and example, will be self-validating to all who will simply pray as he says [that is, the Lord’s Prayer] and not give up. It is much harder to learn if we succumb to the temptation to engage in “heroic” efforts in prayer. This is important. Heroism, generally, is totally out of place in the spiritual life, until we grow to the point at which it would never be thought of as heroism anyway.

“There are, of course, people who pray heroically, and they are to be respected for what God has called them to… But that is a special calling and is for very few of us. To look to this calling as the ideal for our prayer life is only to assume a burden of uncalled-for guilt, and, quite surely, it is to choose an approach that will lead to abandoning prayer as a realistic…aspect of life in the kingdom. There will be heroic periods as they may be called for, but with no intention to be heroic. Always, we are simply children walking and talking with our Father at hand.

“…Prayer is never just asking, nor is it merely a matter of asking for what I want. God is not a cosmic butler or a fix-it man, and the aim of the universe is not to fulfill my desires and needs. On the other hand, I am to pray for what concerns me, and many people have found prayer impossible because they thought they should only pray for wonderful but remote needs they actually had little or no interest in or even knowledge of. 

“Prayer simply dies from efforts to pray about “good things” that honestly do not matter to us. The way to get to meaningful prayer for those good things is to start by praying for what we are truly interested in. The circle of our interests will inevitably grow in the largeness of God’s love.

“What prayer as asking presupposes is simply a personal…relationship between us and God, just as with a request of child to parent or friend to friend. It assumes that our natural concerns will be naturally expressed, and that God will hear our prayers for ourselves as well as for others. Once again, this is clear from the biblical practice of prayer. It is seen at its best in that greatest of all prayer books, Psalms.

“Accordingly, I believe the most adequate description of prayer is simply, “Talking to God about what we are doing together.”

~ Dallas Willard, from The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God

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