What is worship?

Pastor Marcus MackayThe next few newsletter articles will tackle the subject of “worship.”  For now, let’s start with what was heard at a popular local Christian church not very far away . . .

 “when you go to a Justin Timberlake concert…you are worshipping:  showing love, admiration, affection…Lucas Oil stadium…same thing…the question isn’t whether but what you will worship?”

“your church experience will only be as good as what you bring to it”

“you were made to worship…you were made to love and show admiration and affection”

“God is worthy of the WOW that is already in your heart”

“aim the WOW in your heart toward the one that is only worthy of it”

“you are already worshipping so direct it to Him”

“aim your worship…to God”

“life is hard and challenging….worship your way through it”

The underlying premise of this “sermon” is that true worship is standing, dancing, clapping, praising, exactly how you see done at a concert or football game.  The pastor even went so far as to say that God commands such worship and that humans beings are created to do just that.

Let’s start with John 6:28-29, Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”

The highest form of worship is FAITH.  Not what you do or how you do it, but belief in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, crucified and risen for your sins and the sins of the whole world. 

The local pastor went on to claim that “you were made to worship” and that you are doing just that at a Colts game or Justin Timberlake concert.  Since this is worship, you merely need to “aim your worship at God.”  This is also false on many levels:

  1. Man is spiritually dead in his trespasses and sin.  He is not made to worship, he is so infected by sin that even Jesus says in John 8:44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.There are many passages that speak to our inability to worship God or that we can control or aim anything.  Here is another from 1 Corinthians 2:14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.  
  2. Many Christians assume that the word “worship” is the same as the word “praise.”  This is why many churches, even Lutheran, have a “Praise Service” or a “Praise Team”.   The first word for worship that occurs in Genesis actually means “bow down.”  This is quite different from the definition of worship I shared above.  Bowing down is quiet and reverent and submissive.  I suggest we start a “Bowing Service” and a “Bowing Team”!  😊Just joking.
  3. God commands that we only worship Him, so if what we do at a Colts game or Timberlake concert is the same thing, then following the logic from this popular local Christian church, it would be sinful according to Scripture! Consider these passages where God commands worship of Him only:  Luke 4:8 And Jesus answered him, “It is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’”  Deuteronomy 6:13 It is the Lord your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear.

So we see that the definition of “worship” from this big box church is incorrect, from Scripture.  Furthermore, how do you deal with sin in your life?  This church falsely tells you to “worship your way through it”.  This puts ALL the work on you! 

Our Divine Services as Lutheran-Christians focus on two things:  humbling ourselves before the almighty God with reverence and awe, but an awe that bows down before Him, which is so different from the way the world worships.  We don’t worship God like we do the Colts or Timberlake, because we have nothing to offer Him.  We are sinners.  Thus, the Divine Service is not about us coming to God, but rather God coming to us.  Forgiving us.  Which reminds me, Jesus commands (mandates) the Apostles’ and the church that follows them John 20:19-23, On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”  When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.  Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”  And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

I watched the entire service of this local church.  Never once did I hear the pastors speak these life-giving words of Jesus: I FORGIVE YOU.  Why don’t they do that?  Jesus commands it. 

Luke 24:46-47 Jesus said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.

Forgiveness of sins was mentioned once or twice, but it was not the main thing in the “sermon”.  They never mentioned the Gospel in terms of what Jesus did by living a perfect life, dying a death as the once for all sacrifice upon the cross, and rising to new life in His resurrection.  This church is trying to get you and others to believe a false gospel, that you can and should worship God in a certain way.  This is all Law.  I am saddened to hear such drivel and fear for those who may be led astray.

And if we are going to talk about what God commands, what about Jesus also commanding the Lord’s Supper?  We do it every Sunday.  And not just because He commands (mandates) it, but because we also need it and desire what He forgives:  forgiveness of sins, life and salvation.  I did not see nor hear this emphasis at this local church.  Luke 22:19-20 And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”  And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.

Lastly, disciples are NOT made by teaching them to worship or aiming their worship at the right person or place.  Hear again the words of Jesus, Matthew 28:18-20, And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Disciples are made first by baptizing, not worshipping.  Which is one of the reasons we baptize our infants.  They, as sinners, receive God’s grace and mercy.  They do nothing, He does everything.  Then we teach.  We catechize.  I did not hear this emphasis from Scripture, at this local and popular “Christian” church.  They are preaching a false gospel and twisting God’s word to appeal to you and others, leading them away from the gifts of Christ.    

The crux of this first newsletter article on worship is this:  we have nothing to offer Him, but He gives everything to us through Jesus Christ, through His Word, through His Sacraments.  It is not sinful to celebrate at a Colts game or Timberlake concert.  True worship is faith and quiet submission, which should bring to mind the story of Mary and Martha.  Martha is busy working and doing things for Jesus.  Mary is sitting quietly, at Jesus’ feet, listening, learning and receiving.  Jesus commends Mary’s faith and actions, not Martha’s.  Let us first receive His gifts of Word and Sacrament and then get busy with all that needs to be done this side of heaven.  How we worship, what we say and do, does matter.  More to come in the next newsletter article.

Forgiveness of sins, life and salvation are freely yours through Jesus Christ your Savior!

Peace be with you,

Pr. Mackay



Behold the Man!

Senior Pastor Marcus MackayAsh Wednesday, March 6th, is the first day of the season of Lent. Lent is a time of prayer, repentance, and renewal. 
 
This day has been called “Ash Wednesday” since the beginning of its observance in the seventh century.  The name comes from the practice of placing ashes on the forehead as a sign of sorrow and repentance.  Throughout Scripture, ashes are a sign of God’s wrath and condemnation and were thusly seen as a sign of penitence, sorrow, and mourning.  The sign of the cross is made with the ashes, along with the words, “Dust you are and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:19).  Those words are part of the curse given to Adam and Eve following their fall into sin.  The words keep us mindful of God’s judgment upon sin, our subsequent mortality and need for a Savior.  The cross, however, serves to remind us that Christ has conquered sin, death and the devil for us.  Though we will all someday die, yet we shall live! As part of our Ash Wednesday Divine Service at 7:00pm, we will be including the imposition of ashes for those who desire.   If you would like to receive the sign of the cross from the ashes, please come forward before our service begins, down the center aisle.  Before our service begins, please spend the time in quiet meditation and prayer.  Please meditate on the Small Catechism (LSB p.321), Psalm 32, 51, or 90 (in the front).  Christian Questions & Answers is also excellent  (LSB p.329ff).
  • The ashes come from the Palms that were used for last year’s Palm Sunday service!
  • Olive oil was commonly used in Jesus’ time to moisturize & protect the skin, in addition for the sacred use of “anointing”. Don’t worry, it will all come off with a little soap and water!
  • Our focus this Lenten Season is “Behold the Man!” A devotional booklet is provided for each member household and located in your member mailbox.  If you are a guest or visitor, we have one available for you free of charge!   We will gather each Wednesday and “Behold the Man!” in a chronological reading and meditation of the Passion account.  JOIN US FOR LENT AND EASTER SERVICES!
  • Some people “give something up” for the Lenten season (which consists of 40 days, not counting Sundays, before Easter). You may do this if you wish, in order to help focus on the many gifts that God gives us.  Fasting was common in OT & NT times and many still do so today (Jesus fasted in the desert).  Ask one of the Pastors if you have questions or concerns!

Our theme and devotional booklet have been written by Rev. Jeff Hemmer and published by Concordia Publishing House.  I leave you with these wise and winsome words from Pastor Hemmer: 

“Behold the man!” proclaimed the unwitting preacher Pontius Pilate in one of the shortest yet most profound sermons ever recorded. This will be our endeavor this Lententide and Easter Sunday. Behold the man, God in human flesh, Jesus. His incarnation will provide the basis for our meditation and proclamation on His Passion. And His real bodily suffering and death will provide the basis for our full-throated proclamation on Easter morning of a bodily resurrection, not just of Jesus but also for His saints. Real bodies that have suffered, wept, bled, prayed, eaten, hoped, and more will be those raised incorruptible from their graves on the day of Jesus’ return. We will fix our eyes and our preaching on the man Jesus, contemplating the inescapable fact—indeed the most important fact in the course of human history—that God became man. The Second Person of the eternal triune God, whom we confess in the Nicene Creed as “God of God, Light of light, very God of very God . . . of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made,” became a living, breathing, flesh-and-blood human being, a man. In some ways, you can understand that the first heresy the Christian Church had to contend with was that of Gnosticism, the hyperspiritual religion that held that because no man could be God, the Christ could not be God. Gnosticism is alluring because it tidies everything up, gives Christianity a more attractive spiritual veneer, and pulls its adherents out of the mire of this world and gives them something otherworldly to strive for. Considered correctly, it becomes pretty hard to spiritualize Christianity—a religion that bases its existence on the enfleshment, the incarnation, of God—into the mess of disembodied, matter-rejecting, hyperspiritual Gnosticism. When God has flesh and blood, skin and teeth, cells and nuclei, DNA and RNA, it’s difficult to contend for the disembodied spiritual against the material. If God has a body, bodies must matter. In case you aren’t convinced of the pervasiveness of the second-century heresy of Gnosticism, even in our twenty-first-century context, attend a funeral. If you hear talk only of heaven with nary a word of a bodily resurrection, you’ve witnessed firsthand modern-day Gnosticism. If the preacher doesn’t deal with the body in the casket as the real person whose death has assembled the mass of grieving relatives and friends, if he talks only about the bodyless soul in heaven, he hasn’t preached a genuinely Christian funeral. In other words, if he gives preference to the spiritual over the material, he succumbs to the Gnostic heresy the earliest generations of the Church sought to guard against by preaching the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus. This Lent, we will consider what it means that God became man. In preparation for the celebration of a real, bodily, flesh-and-blood, bone-and-sinew resurrection, the resurrection without which our faith and our preaching are all in vain, consider the body of Jesus that exists in order to be nailed to a cross. The spiritual, bodyless Son of God became the embodied, enfleshed, incarnate Son of Mary. In Jesus, God has human flesh, a body, just like you. What could be more profound? Behold the Man!
 
Pastor Mackay  


Overheard at a local hardware store

Senior Pastor Marcus Mackay
 
Overheard at a local hardware store, in a galaxy far, far away . . . (actually it was in Zionsville, IN)
 
Guy 1: “Hey, you look familiar! Have I seen your face somewhere before?”
Guy 2: “Ummm. Probably not. I just moved to the area.”
 
Guy 1: “No man, I really think I have seen your picture somewhere…maybe the newspaper?”
Guy 2: “I doubt it. The picture that was in the paper of me is actually a few years old and my wife says I have aged considerably since then, besides growing my beard during the winter.”
 
Guy 1: “I knew it! Why was your picture in the paper?”
 
Sidenote: At this point I could have had a lot of fun with this guy, but a Pastor is supposed to be honest, right?
 
Me: “I am the new pastor at Advent Lutheran Church here in Zionsville.”
Guy 1: “Cool! I knew I recognized your face. What kind of Lutherans are you?”
 
Sidenote: In hindsight, I probably should have just said something like: the kind that use the liturgy, believe in original sin, that the Bible is actually the Word of God, that Baptism saves you, that the Body & Blood of Jesus is really present in the bread and the wine, that we are justified by grace through faith . . . but we were in the hardware store, so I just said:
 
Me: “We are Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod.”
Guy 1: “Yeah! I’ve heard about you guys . . . the MISERY SIE-NOD!”
 
Let’s stop there, ok?
It is true that somewhere along the path of life this gentleman that I met in the hardware store had heard or been exposed to the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. Misery! It has been a long-standing joke, not just among Lutherans, but also among Kansans, Iowans, Illinoisans (is that a word?), etc. It is actually fairy accurate!
 
In April of 1518, Martin Luther is called before the Augustinian Order in Heidelberg to defend and further explain his views on indulgences, which he had just attacked six months earlier in the 95 Theses. Ironically, the word “indulgence” does not occur once in the records of this debate (called a “disputation” and something we need more of in the church). Many theologians believe it was even more important than the 95 Theses. The Heidelberg Disputation contains 28 Theses followed by 28 Proofs (explanation of the Theses).
 
Here are the first three Theses:
1) The law of God, the most salutary doctrine of life, cannot advance man on his way to righteousness, but rather hinders him.
2) Much less can human works, which are done over and over again with the aid of natural precepts, so to speak, lead to that end.
3) Although the works of man always seem attractive and good, they are nevertheless likely to be mortal sins.
 
May I summarize?
1) The Ten Commandments won’t help you obtain righteousness.
2) You can’t keep the Ten Commandments.
3) Whatever you do won’t really get you anywhere and is probably sin.
 
Misery. Sin. Death. Helplessness.
 
Yes! As Missouri-Synod Lutherans, we talk about sin, death and helplessness. It is our nature and the state of this life as we await Christ’s return. We acknowledge, even embrace it. Living is difficult. Raising children is challenging. Suffering hurts. And dying might be the hardest thing we ever do.
 
So what is one to do?
 
Embrace the misery. Recognize the problem. And then?
 
I will let Luther answer this one:
17) Nor does speaking in this manner give cause for despair, but for arousing the desire to humble oneself and seek the grace of  Christ.
18) It is certain that man must utterly despair of his own ability before he is prepared to receive the grace of Christ.
19) That person does not deserve to be called a theologian who looks upon the invisible things of God as though they were clearly perceptible in those things which have actually happened (Rom. 1:20; cf. 1 Cor 1:21-25),
20) He deserves to be called a theologian, however, who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross.
21) A theology of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theology of the cross calls the thing what it actually is.
 
Misery, yes. But through the suffering and the cross of your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, there is grace and mercy. Covered with His righteousness in your Baptism. His life-giving Body and Blood coursing through your veins and weary bones. His Word of Absolution, which is absolute comfort, spoken to you.
 
Let us be theologians of the cross, shall we? Certainly as we speak with our neighbor in the hardware store, but especially as we receive His gifts in the Divine Service.
 
Jesu Juva (Jesus, help me),
Pastor Mackay
 
11 You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. Psalm 16:11
4 Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name. 5 For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning. Psalm 30:4-5
 
You can read a free translation of the Heidelberg Disputation here: http://bookofconcord.org/heidelberg.php


Unto us a Child is born…

Senior Pastor Marcus MackayIt was Christmas of 1532. The Peace of Nuremberg had just been signed in June, halting conflict between the Catholics and Protestants and uniting them against the Ottoman Turks who were threatening Hungary. We know from history that this peace would not last. In August, the German Lutherans mourned the death of Elector Johann, who suffered a stroke while at his hunting castle. At his funeral service, Luther praised him for his courage in signing the Augsburg Confession back in 1530. Who would fill such large shoes? Regardless, surely all of these events and future concerns weighed heavily on Luther’s mind and heart!
 
But Christmas came as it always does. Luther scheduled himself for a rigorous preaching schedule: five sermons in four consecutive days. Beginning Christmas Eve in the parish church, Luther preached on the Festival of Christ’s Nativity, culminating on December 27th, the Day of St. John the Evangelist. His text for all five sermons was Isaiah 9:1-7
 
1But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. 2 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. 3 You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil. 4 For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. 5 For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire. 6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the increase of government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
 
In the midst of national security issues, the death of a great leader and so many uncertainties, Luther did not waver in his concern for his flock’s clear, unwavering and objective faith. I suppose he could have appealed to their felt needs or cultural responsibilities, but the Festival of Christ’s Nativity was all about simple faith which justifies us poor sinners. It was about a God who took on human flesh to wallow in the trenches of this life. This simple faith always has and holds as its direct object the person and work of Jesus Christ. While Christmas has many cultural traditions (for us: Santa, elves, reindeer, etc), a Christian should primarily begin their focus elsewhere. In his introduction to his sermon series, Luther writes:
 
People are presently celebrating the beautiful and delightful festival of the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. And it is fitting indeed for us to celebrate God’s glorious grace with a truly wonderful festival and to ponder it well, so that the article in which we confess and pray in our Christian faith, I believe in Jesus Christ conceived of the Holy Ghost born of the Virgin Mary, may be remembered not just within Christendom, but also that distressed sorrowful hearts everywhere might find comfort and be strengthened over against the devil and every misfortune.
 
We celebrate this festival, first, because of what we confess in the Creed. For it is a great, unspeakable endowment that we have in faith to regard this as God’s consummate wisdom that He, who created heaven and earth, is born of a virgin. Among Jews and Gentiles this has been judged as particularly foolish proclamation, when first it was preached to the world. It was considered too absurd, just as today still so very many regard it too ridiculous that sublime, divine majesty, God himself, should not lower Himself so deeply, not only to create, nourish, and sustain mankind, but also Himself to become a man. To sum, up, human reason does not understand it; the devil, the world, and human reason object to it, exclaiming NOTHING MORE FOOLISH HAS EVER BEEN FOISTED ON PEOPLE IN THE WORLD! For this reason, we must diligently preach and study this article, so that we become well versed in and strengthened by it, in no way entertaining any doubts about it, but becoming ever more sure that God sent His Son in the world, to become man and be born of a woman. For this is solely the gift and wisdom belonging to us who are Christians, that we are able to say that no greater wisdom, no more sublime truth, has appeared in the world than that God, who created heaven and earth, was born of a virgin, that He, therefore, has such members as eyes, ears, hands, and feet, body and soul, just like any other human being. Indeed, it is ridiculous to human reason; but we celebrate this festival in order to become firmly persuaded of it and entertain no doubts about it.”
 
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ at Advent Lutheran Church: God is not a God of doubt, but a God of certainty! With Luther and the many faithful Christians who have come before us, we celebrate the Festival of the Nativity with many events and situations upon our mind and heart. But for us who walk in darkness and dwell in land of darkness, a light has shone. Christ, the light of the world has come! Incarnated . . . becoming human . . . like you . . . for you.
 
For Luther and his beloved flock, the Lord also provided a new leader, Elector Johann Frederick I. At the young age of twenty-nine, he succeeded his father and became even more Lutheran in his policies than his father! Thus, in the midst of change, the Lord yet provided. Luther and those who gladly received the Word in his many sermons believed and found comfort in such simple, yet profound truth. Let us thus keep this Festival of Christ’s Nativity in sincerity and truth, gathering with our family and loved ones here at Advent to receive forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. I am blessed to receive these gifts with you as your new Pastor and serve you in like manner.
 
Unto us a child is born . . . unto us a Son is given . . . a blessed Christmastide to all of you,
 
Pastor Mackay


The Reformation, 25 Years & Looking Forward

Pastor James GradyIt was a blessed Reformation Sunday at Advent! Two little ones were baptized into Christ and made heirs of His kingdom–a fitting example of the salvation by grace through faith we receive freely from our Lord. There was also the announcement of Pastor Marcus Mackay’s decision to accept the call to be our Senior Pastor. His letter to the congregation was read before each service by Monte Weimer and the news was met with cheerful gasps and applause before each service (in good Lutheran form).

The next two months will be quite pivotal in the history of Advent Evangelical Lutheran Church. We will install a new pastor to be our shepherd and get to know and love his family as our own. It is fortunate that the season of Advent will offer many opportunities to get to know them through both worship and fellowship. December 16th is an important day as well. On this Sunday we will have our Sunday school Christmas program. It was also on that day in 1993 that the articles of incorporation were signed for Zionsville Lutheran Church… the name of which was changed to Advent Evangelical Lutheran Church in May of 1995. For 25 years, Advent has been faithfully proclaiming God’s Word of mercy and grace to the people of not only Zionsville, but quite literally to the world.

This would be good time to consider:
Updating our church photo directory, getting as great of participation as possible. Historically we average somewhere around 55% participation. Wouldn’t it be great to approach somewhere near 80% participation? A high level of participation would be a blessing to Pastor Mackay and his family. They will have much to do as they settle into a house, schools and become familiar with their surroundings. An up to date pictorial directory would be a great help to them as they begin to put faces and names together. As members, it will be good for us too. Chris Colson has, once again, agreed to take the photos. The photo sessions will take place on Sundays beginning Nov. 25 through Dec. 16th. 

The story of Advent is the story of God entering the lives of His people through Word and Sacrament, teaching them to trust Him for their salvation, and nothing else. It is the story of God with us! What is your story as you have experienced God’s peace and been a part of Advent Evangelical Lutheran Church over the past 25 years?

As we look forward to December 16th, it would be fun to hear some of your memories (be they a year or twenty-five years old) by gathering together some photos and stories about the many joyous events that have taken place.

Perhaps you were married here during that time or your children were baptized. Did you come before God to be baptized, confirmed and married here at Advent during the past 25 years? Do you have a memory from VBS, a Christmas program,
Heritage Tour, or other event to share?

Depending on the number of stories and photos submitted, it would be nice to bind some of them in booklet form, like our pictorial directory. All will be archived into a physical scrapbook as well as an electronic file.

Hand written or done electronically, it will be good to archive your memories of the “early years” of God’s work as seen through the eyes of you, the saints of Advent Evangelical Lutheran Church.

Pastor Grady

P.S. Watch Advent Announcements for more details about how to submit your photos and stories for Advent’s 25th anniversary year.



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