Monday, November 24, 2008

Offering Thanks Like a Pilgrim

Around 200 people gathered last night at Sycamore Reformed Presbyterian Church for a Thanksgiving Service. Brethren from the Elkhart, Lafayette, and West Lafayette RP congregations joined us for this annual event, along with friends from other churches and the community.

With the title above serving as our theme, the evening began with the following explanation:

The roots of Thanksgiving in our nation are found in those first Pilgrims who crossed the Atlantic Ocean aboard the Mayflower in 1620. After 66 days at sea, they arrived at what would be called the Plymouth colony on November of that year in what is today Massachusetts. Right before they landed, 41 persons on board gathered and signed the Mayflower Compact, which was a document explaining how this new colony would be governed. It was a covenant that spoke of how they would order and preserve themselves in order to accomplish the goal of their voyage, which was done (I quote from the Compact) “for the Glory of God and advancement of the Christian Faith and Honour of our King and Country.”

They would need their faith in God. William Bradford, the eventual governor of the colony, suffered the tragedy of having his own wife drown while the Mayflower was still anchored in the harbor and unloading passengers and supplies. On land, harsh weather, lack of food, and threats by Indians met them. Despite their best efforts to build shelter quickly and to endure the winter, by April of 1621 half of the original 102 people had died.

Yet through the spring and summer of that next year their fortunes turned. Crops began to grow. More permanent housing was built. Peace occurred with the Indians native to the region. So in the fall of 1621, Governor William Bradford proclaimed a day of thanksgiving to be shared by all the colonists and the Native Americans who had helped them. The thanksgiving turned into a three day event filled with feasting and laughter, and games and races took place.

During it all, whether laying a loved on in a freshly dug grave or rejoicing over a birth or harvest in the new land, the Pilgrims continually turned to the psalms of the Bible to express their heart cries and joys to the Lord. Being of Puritan belief, they had set aside ceremony in worship so common in their homeland for the simplicity of worshiping God in spirit and truth. As such, the Pilgrims used the psalm-book written by Henry Ainsworth in 1612, believing that the singing of the Word of God was commanded in the Scriptures and exemplified in the life of Christ and His apostles. They used the Ainsworth Psalter because they believed it to be a more true and literal translation of the Psalms. We are going to begin our service tonight by singing Psalm 100 from this psalter (Note: A page featuring a portion of this psalm from the 1612 Ainsworth Psalter is pictured above.)

Yet we are singing this psalm and others for more than sentimental reasons. The Pilgrim’s example and story are worth noting, for we are to see ourselves as on a pilgrimage to a better country. Those who have been brought out of the death and destruction of sin and into the kingdom of the eternal God by the work of Jesus Christ are like Israel of old - we are on a pilgrimage through this world's wilderness to our heavenly destination. The Psalm book is written for pilgrims, and as the structure of this service will show, gives us:

  • the cries we need to express in our distress,
  • the direction we need for our journey,
  • the redemption we need as found only in Christ,
  • and the promise we need that heaven indeed will be granted to those who walk by faith.
We then enjoyed a service of singing these types of psalms, reading of relevant Scripture, and prayers of gratitude. Toward the conclusion, we also sang Psalm 23 from the 1640 Bay Psalm Book (the first book published in America), as its familiar words of the Good Shepherd leading His sheep along a path that passes through enemies and dark vales ends with the assurance that He will bring us to His home - a true pilgrim's anthem! For our final selection, we sang from Psalm 84 and experienced in our hearts this truth that it contains:

Blest are they who in Thy Strength confide, and in whose heart are pilgrims' ways!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

All A-Twitter

Yet another technological wonderment has hit the internet. This will be old news for the young people, I'm sure, but hang in there for a moment while I explain it to my generation. It's a service called Twitter that has a little bluebird as its logo. Basically put, it is like making the wall of Facebook instantaneous without all the dressings. Oops! That still won't explain it to most of my middle-aged friends. Let me be a bit more specific.

Rather than a blog like you are reading now, Twitter is a micro-blog that allows a constant updating of thoughts (limit of 140 characters) from the Twitter subscriber and those he allows to respond. These mini-posts can either be read on the Web as a continuous list of comments or sent via e-mail or text message. As the developers state, Twitter answers the basic question, "What are you doing?" Friends can post what they are doing or thinking at any moment and, wham, all those who care can receive the news on their cell phones or computers. Major corporations and news agencies are using Twitter to give people instant updates (called "tweets" in Twitter Land) on exciting new products or breaking stories.

And, yes, the church has "flocked" to the action. WORLD magazine reported on Westwinds Church in Jackson, Michigan, that has used Twitter in their worship services. As the pastor preaches or the musician performs, the congregation has had services where they can post their thoughts on a Twitter site that is being projected on large screens in the sanctuary. Though the pastor recognizes not everyone will appreciate this innovation (he has even had to deal with inappropriate things being said on the screen), he believes these concerns are outweighed by the way Twitter gets everyone to participate more greatly in the service. He claims the Twittering they do through the week helps the church body stay connected.

As you may have anticipated, for all of its technological glory and I'm sure helpful applications in certain areas, I am now getting ready to tell you that I have concerns about a casual use of Twitter. But please listen to me before you accuse me of being as afraid of technology as a yellow-bellied sapsucker, mad as a wet hen that I did not think of it first, or trying too hard to be wise as an owl. On its website, Twitter itself points out the problem when it says this about its own service: "With Twitter, you can stay hyper–connected to your friends and always know what they’re doing...Twitter puts you in control and becomes a modern antidote to information overload." These paradoxical statements point out my dual concern.

On the one hand, do we need to be hyper-connected to our friends? Do not cell phones, e-mails, Facebooks, text messaging, etc., have us so hyper-connected already that we are being constantly interrupted by others? Besides, do I always want to know what you are doing? Better yet, do you always want to know what I am doing? I hope not! Do you not have better things to do? Like thinking about what you were doing before you were interrupted by yet another "tweet?"

Then on the other hand, is not their own description a bit delusional? How is getting constant information an "antidote to information overload?!?!" We think we are in control, but does this not lead us more toward a life of being controlled by friends who want to tell us instantly what's on their mind, no matter when or what it might be? In normal conversations, are we not bothered by those who constantly "crow" about their accomplishments, "chirp" with the latest gossip, or "squawk" about their problems?

And using Twitter in worship? C'mon! This is Quakerism run a muck! How can you truly listen to the Word of God when you are constantly glancing at the latest cool comment someone posted or trying to think of one of your own? Guys, make a date with your wife or girlfriend at a nice restaurant in order to have a meaningful conversation with her. But before you order your food, encourage her to use her cellphone and text her best friend during the meal about what you are doing and saying. Then you'll have the just the faintest of an idea of how the jealous God feels about this latest idolatrous distraction modern man has introduced into His worship.

All this reminds me of the men of Athens. When Paul arrived, the Scriptures in Acts 17 say that "all the Athenians and the strangers visiting there used to spend their time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new." They were all a-twitter over anything new they could hear. But when Paul began speaking the gospel, what did they think of him? They called him the "babbler." This word babbler in the Greek is literally "seed-picker," and was used to describe birds as they flitted here and there picking up and dropping seeds. So the babbler goes about, picking up and dropping news wherever he goes. Ironically, though the Athenians were the ones guilty of constantly tweeting with new news, they viewed the one with Good News as the babbler in the bunch.

Sounds a bit bird-brained to me.