This past Sunday, we had a little bit of a technological snafu, and I thought it might be helpful to explain what was going on. Somehow, the responsive reading that appeared on our screen was the reading from the previous Sunday, not the psalm that was intended for this Sunday’s service. When we discovered the mix-up, Heather offered to lead the reading as it appeared on the screen – from Psalm 34:15-22. But I knew that Psalm 146 was the correct reading for the day, and that it was printed out (like normal) for Heather to read from the pulpit. So I asked her to read the entire psalm aloud by herself, thus nullifying the “responsive” part of this week’s responsive reading.

When we worship together, content is more important than form. What we sing, read, pray, and communicate is more important than the way in which we do it. I would much rather change a responsive reading into reading done by one person, rather than have everybody involved in reading something that doesn’t quite fit into the flow of the service.

You see, our services at Mt. Haley are carefully designed to move from one item to the next, always with a central theme in mind. Each week, when I plan the service, I sit down with the scripture texts for the day. Those usually (but not always) come from the “lectionary,” a structured way of working through the whole Bible, which is used by many different Christian groups around the world. I sit with those passages and consider what they have in common, what kind of theme they suggest for us to experience together in worship. With that theme in mind, I then select songs and the “between-song” scripture verses, so that the entire service is, more or less, about that particular theme.

For example, this past Sunday was all about “Jesus the healer.” The sermon text, Mark 7:24-37, tells two stories of Jesus healing different people. The reading from Isaiah 35:3-7 is an ancient prophecy of the Messiah who would come and bring healing to the blind, the deaf, the lame, and the mute. The songs we sang reminded us of Jesus’s ability to bring healing in all areas of life: physical, spiritual, emotional, and so on. Through his sacrificial death and resurrection, Jesus gives us abundant life even in the midst of difficult circumstances.

So our responsive reading, which came very early in the service, needed to set the tone for the rest of the service. We needed to hear Psalm 146 proclaim its ancient truth:

God “upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets prisoners free, the Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the alien and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.” (Psalm 146:7-9 NIV)

All of this is to remind you that our worship services are not cobbled together by accident. Each service has a theme, a guiding principle, something that draws together every piece of what we do. That theme is printed in the bulletin at the beginning of the service. Just this morning, Stacy (our wonderful secretary) had the idea to include the theme on the electronic presentations that run before the service, both in the sanctuary and in the narthex. That way, you will have more opportunities to see the theme of the day and to begin thinking and praying about it, even as you get settled in your seat in the sanctuary.

I hope this helps you to worship at Mt. Haley. Worship is one of the most important things we do as a community of faith! Thanks for being part of this experience with us.

Pastor David

Last year, we introduced a series of banners to decorate our sanctuary with the colors and symbols of the various seasons of the church year. The banners rotate around our sanctuary during the course of the year, with the current season’s banner displayed prominently beside the pulpit. We have green banners to designate “Ordinary Time,” purple banners for Advent and Lent, and red banners for Pentecost and the Lord’s Supper. Starting this Sunday, you might notice that one our banners has changed colors:

The banner representing the current season of Easter, showing a cross on a purple background, now shows a cross on a white background. Why the change? Continue reading

“Joy to the world, the Lord is come!”

Wait, isn’t that a Christmas carol? Why are we going to sing it on Easter Sunday morning?

Yes, the song appears in our hymnal in the Christmas carol section (which is named “Jesus Christ: Advent and Nativity”). Before it is “We Three Kings,” and after it is “The First Noel.” I keep track of the days on which we sing songs in worship, and in my years as pastor at Mt. Haley, we have only ever sung “Joy to the World” in the month of December – or, occasionally, in late November. There is no question that this song is a Christmas-time song.

But we’re going to sing it on Easter Sunday, and I’m excited about that. :)

“Joy to the World” is based on Psalm 98. Isaac Watts wrote these lyrics as part of his quest to point all of the Psalms specifically to Jesus. Take a few minutes right now to read Psalm 98 – which, by the way, will be our responsive reading on Easter Sunday, as well.

Joy to the world! The Lord is come. Let earth receive her King. Let every heart prepare him room, and heaven and nature sing.

If there were ever a day for us to celebrate the arrival of Jesus as King, it is Easter Sunday. After all hope seemed to have been lost on Good Friday, and after a quiet day of somber reflection on Holy Saturday, Christians around the world will celebrate with great wonder the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Who else would we claim as our King?

Joy to the world! The Savior reigns. Let men their songs employ, while fields and flocks, rocks, hills, and plains repeat the sounding joy.

All creation joins in celebration of the new life found in Jesus Christ. Remember that Easter coincides with the early days of springtime. Take a look around you: fields, flocks, rocks, hills, and plains are all bursting at the seams with new life. (Well, ok, maybe the rocks are a little stoic. But maybe not: see Luke 19:37-40.)

No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground. He comes to make his blessings flow far as the curse is found.

This is what the Easter season is all about: through his death and resurrection, Jesus has made atonement for our sins. The sorrow of Good Friday has been turned into Easter celebrations. The thorns on Jesus’s crown are exchanged for a royal crown that will never be taken away from him.

He rules the world with truth and grace, and makes the nations prove the glories of his righteousness and wonders of his love.

Jesus came into this world full of grace and truth (John 1:14). His resurrection from the dead proves that the world’s greatest powers – religious and secular alike – are no match for his righteousness and love.

We live in an in-between time, between Jesus’s resurrection and his return at the end of the age. During this in-between time, we remember and celebrate the past: Jesus died, was buried, and rose from the grave. But we also remember and celebrate the future: Jesus will come again in glory, and the kingdom of this world will become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ (Revelation 11:15). Rightly understood, “Joy to the World” is a song about the second coming of Christ. Won’t it be grand to remember Jesus’s future arrival on the day that we remember his victory over the grave?

Come and worship with us at Mt. Haley on Easter Sunday, April 16, at 10am. We will have a sunrise service at 7am and a hot breakfast at 8am as well.

Expect to meet with God. Anticipate an audience with the Almighty. Prepare yourself for an encounter with the one who loves you … and who emptied himself so that you might live abundantly.

This Sunday’s theme is “belonging to God’s family.” In Christ, our deepest needs and desires for belonging and acceptance are met!

  • Welcome/Announcements: We review our upcoming schedule and important events.
  • Prayer: We welcome God’s presence in our midst as we begin our worship.
  • “Blessed Be Your Name”: We lift our voices in praise to God – no matter what our present circumstances are.
  • Responsive Reading – Psalm 27: We recite together the ancient words: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?”
  • “Whom Shall I Fear?”: We sing, in response to scripture, this affirmation of God’s provision for us – because he loves us as his children.
  • Offering: Out of thankfulness and praise, we give our very selves to the Lord, symbolized by the tithes and offerings we place in the offering plate.
  • “The Family of God”: We continue in a mode of thanksgiving by celebrating the truth that we have been brought into God’s family, through Jesus.
  • Missions Moment: We take a moment to review our involvement in missions activities around the world. God’s family is quite large indeed!
  • “Facing a Task Unfinished”: We unite with thousands of churches around the world who will sing this song this Sunday as well. It’s a song of commitment to the unfinished work of sharing the love of Jesus with everyone around us.
  • Prayer: We lift our praises and concerns to God, who cares for our every need.
  • “Be Still and Know”: We remember, in song, that God’s desire for us is simply to rest, to know that he is God.
  • Special Music: We contemplate the goodness of being in God’s presence while we listen to a special selection presented by one of our members.
  • Scripture Reading – Philippians 3:17-4:1: This passage teaches us to eagerly await our Savior, Jesus Christ, and the eternal life which he promises us.
  • Scripture Reading – Luke 13:31-35: In this sermon text, Jesus compares himself to a mothering hen who only desires to draw her chicks to herself for protection, love, and life. Yet those chicks are unwilling…
  • Message – “Poured Out: Empty Nest”: This second week of Lent has us thinking about how Jesus poured himself out for all people, even though the people around him did not respond favorably to him at the time.
  • “Just As I Am, Without One Plea”: We respond to God by presenting ourselves to him, without apology or modification, so that he might draw us under his sheltering wing and give us life.

Come and worship with us!

This Sunday is Valentine’s Day. Will our service be all about love? Nope. This is the first Sunday in the season of Lent. We will begin to follow Jesus on his journey to the cross.

The theme this Sunday is “finding our home in God’s presence.” Being rooted in our relationship with God is what helps us make sense of our lives and the world around us. “Home” is a powerful concept, a metaphor for all that is (or should be) right, safe, true, and lasting in our lives. It is in the presence of God that we can find our best and most perfect home. Continue reading

Worship means much more than “songs that we sing on Sunday morning.” To me, worship means “giving worth to God as the people of God,” or “showing God how much we love him,” or “celebrating God for his own sake.” And that can take lots of different forms, not just through music.

For a few years now, I have had the privilege and responsibility of planning our Sunday morning worship services at Mt. Haley. Today I would like to draw back the curtain a little bit, so that you can see what goes into these preparations and what I hope we can accomplish as we worship Jesus together. Continue reading