to whom are you sent to love?

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If you've ever heard of Jonah, I assume it is because he was swallowed by a big fish. But there's more to him than just that. 

Jonah was one of God's prophets, specifically during the Assyrian Empire. Assyria harassed Israel for the past 50 years, but by the time Jonah came to the scene Israel was enjoying a military comeback (2 Kings 14:25). Jonah, along with the prophets before him, called Israel to turn from their faithlessness to faithfully walking with God. 

"He restored the border of Israel from Lebo-hamath as far as the Sea of the Arabah, according to the word of the Lord, the God of Israel, which he spoke by his servant Jonah."

So Jonah enjoyed quite the successful ministry in Israel, so one would expect this successful prophet to be sent to Nineveh. But Jonah did not want to go - at all. 

Assyria, to put it kindly, was not one of the good guys. Violence was their way of life, and they were proud of it. Historians tell us they flayed their enemies, putting their corpses on pikes around conquered cities. 

And they attacked Israel, conquering towns and cities. It is no wonder Jonah ran the other way. He hated them, believing that being an Israelite is better and more deserving of God's love. 

This is where we see Jonah hated the heart of God. God loves. This is why he sent his son, Jesus, and it is why Jesus sends his people into the world (Jn. 3:16; 17:18). This has always been God's design. Even in the beginning, God created his people to be a blessing to the world (Gen. 12:3). In other words, God loves THROUGH his people. God loves us so that he can love others. Later, in an intimate back-and-forth with God, we see Jonah saying: "I did not want to come to Nineveh because I know your heart. I know you'll save them, for you are gracious and kind" (Jonah 4:3). 

This raises two very crucial questions for us. We are a church committed to being an open door to all those who are curious in the way of Jesus. It is our job to love others well so that they too can know the love of God. 

So here are the two questions: 

  • What prevents you from loving others?

There are many manifestations of pride throughout our culture, even within our heart: politics, class, ethnicity, age, generation, income, education, where you live, etc. What is it that prevents you from loving others? 

  • Who is God sending you to? 

God has put people in your life to love so that they can know the love of God. Who are they? 

Why do we sing the songs that we sing?

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For centuries Christians have gathered to hear God’s word preached, partake in the sacraments, enjoy one another’s company, and sing. But what and how Christians sung has never been the same thing. Have you ever heard Gregorian Chants, participated in the Scottish practice of lining, enjoyed a cappella singing, or embraced the meditative repetition of Taize? God’s worship is truly diverse, as every people, community, and city are all different. It’s beautiful. 

There’s a tension in the church today — what should we sing? Should we sing the songs of old or the new songs? For us at Iron Works, the answer is BOTH! We value old songs. Just because songs may be old, does not mean they are the best. We should write and sing new songs. “Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth!” (Psalm 96, NIV). Throughout the biblical story, we see a pattern. Every time that God rescues his people, his people respond in worship. They don’t exclusively rely on the old songs, they write new ones too! The greatest moment of our salvation, the climax of our redemption is finished by Jesus’ atoning work. We even have a picture into heaven, where the angels are singing to God: “Worthy is the lamb that was slain, holy, holy, holy is he” (Rev. 5:12). That picture is what our worship should be like. 

Before I continue - let me state the obvious - songs should be singable by a congregation. Our worship should be participatory, where young and old are able to unite their voices together in praise of God.

So how do we pick our songs? 

The songs we sing must glorify God. 

Glorify means to make much of God. So we want to make much of him - singing songs that speak to his character, to his deeds and more. We want to make much of God so that he is famous. Worship, after all, is primarily for God. He’s made this world. He loves us to life. It is good; it is right to worship him. We worship God for who he is and what he has done. The classic hymns, Holy Holy Holy and Rock of Ages, are two great examples of this. 

This means that we sing songs that are true

We’re not the judge of truth. God is, and his word is true. So the songs that we sing take their cues from Scripture. One of my favorite contemporary musicians is Sandra McCracken, and she has a whole album dedicated to the Psalms. Another contemporary songwriter is Dustin Kensrue, who wrote Rejoice! So another way to look at this is that we sing songs that are born through thoughtful meditation of Scripture. When we do this, then we are going to sing songs from the whole range of human experience. 

We sing songs from the whole range of human experience

If you look at the songs throughout Scripture, you will see some songs that are pure adoration and praise of God, you will find other songs are that are laments and protests at the brokenness of the world, and you will see songs celebrating life with one another.  Singing should make us more human; singing should help us discern what to do about our love, grief, anger, and hope. Singing should help us act out our faith. 

But what do you do when you don’t feel like singing? What do you do if you don’t believe what the song says? 

The reality is that life is messy and emotions are complicated, and worship helps us be more fully human. It's true that life is messy, and our emotions are complicated. So we ought to expect that everyone is coming to worship God from a different place than everyone else. Perhaps some had great weeks, and perhaps others did not. Perhaps a couple got engaged, and perhaps others received a cancer diagnosis. Whatever music we sing is going to pastor and help one another along by modeling: “Hey, this is what you should feel in this moment.” So whether you are confessing sin, you should feel conviction; if you are hearing the gospel then you should feel loved and the relief that comes from being fully known; if you are lamenting, then you should ache about the world that is. The psalms do this beautifully, but so does Bifrost Arts and Sojourn Music

Worship should help us become more emotionally aware of ourselves, where we are able to encourage one another as we follow Jesus together. This is a reason to sing intentional and pastoral songs that help us become more human as we worship our one, true king.

Why do we use a liturgy?

What is liturgy?

Throughout the week we go through various rhythms, habits and routines. Parents know that these are highly formative, which is why parents are disciplined about getting their child to sleep by a certain time. A certain rhythm and routine will teach them how to sleep as they grow. Basketball coaches know how important practice is, which is why they have their athletes practice free throws by the 100s AFTER they have a consistent technique. Muscle memory kicks in. 

So as we go through everyday life, every week, we must be aware of the formative influences that shape our lives and priorities. So when we come to worship God, we go through a liturgy. Liturgy is "the work of God's people." When we gather for worship, we sing and pray, read Scripture and hear a sermon, we greet one another, we confess our sins to God, we hear of Jesus' love and forgiveness, we celebrate the Lord's Supper, and God sends us out to love our communities. We do these things to recover our humanity. Each of these parts of worship help do that. So worship is incredibly important.... We do these things because God first loved us. We get to experientially rehearse the good news of Jesus together several times throughout our worship

Every church follows a liturgy (i.e. an order of worship). So when we use the word liturgy we want you to know two things: 

We value the ancient practices of the historic church.

We live in an era where we celebrate the latest thing, thinking we know better and reject the past. CS Lewis, writing in WW2, called this 'chronological snobbery.' I mention Lewis to show that this is not just a millennial generational trait but a human one. 

When we look at Scripture, we see that God loves extemporaneous prayers. So we create space for praying like this via prayers of adoration and a pastoral prayer in our gatherings. But we also recognize the beautiful language and wordsmithing that is found in various prayerbooks (i.e. Book of Common Prayer, Canyon Road, Valley of Vision, just to name a few.) 

I personally learn a lot about what it means to follow Jesus from this prayer: "Forgive us from the things we have done or left undone.... Set us free from a past that we cannot change, and open up to us a future in which we can be changed." (This is taken from the Penitential Order found in the Book of Common Prayer.) 

We value the ancient practices of the church because they help us follow Jesus in the 21st century. 

Liturgy should be engaging and hospitable. 

But when many people think of liturgy, then think "old," "stale" and "dry." While this may be a true description in some churches or in your own experiences, this should never be the case as there is a lot of drama to worship. 

Here's what really happens when we gather to worship God: 

God calls us to come to him: "Come to me all who are weary, and I will give him rest." "Come, let us reason together... I will make your sins, which are crimson red as white as snow." So we come. We praise him. We shout prayers of adoration. And we acknowledge that we sinned this past week, even though we tried not too. So we know that we don't deserve to be there, yet God loves us and welcomes us. We puts out the fine wine and artisan bread on the table and invites us to sit down with him. 

That's dramatic. We should feel this tension every week. It should be engaging our emotions and minds, challenging our unbelief and answering our questions. Liturgical worship is participatory. This is why we have a responsive tone to worship, and this is why we don't have a pastor do everything in our gatherings. 

Liturgical worship ought to be hospitable. The words that we use to confess our sins should be part of your everyday vocabulary. The prayers that we pray in worship are meant to help you learn how to pray from your home, with your family, at work and when you are with others. It should be easy to pick up, as every week we follow the same rhythm. So if it still feels unfamiliar to you after worshiping with us 4 times, then that is my fault as the pastor! We'll unpack this in our next blog post, as this is a big reason for why we sing the songs that we do. 

Simply put: when the ancient practices of the church are in our everyday language, then it is a powerful, formative experience where we become more like Jesus. 

Job Posting: We're hiring a Children's Ministry Director

"Let the little children come to me." With these words Jesus demonstrated that children have a place in his family. He wanted them there. That was counter cultural for his day. Kids were extra mouths to feed, yet they could not help 'bring home the bacon.' They were obnoxious and loud distractions when the adults 'needed to talk.' Jesus strongly disagreed as he made room for them. 

Children are important, not because they are the church of tomorrow, but because they are part of the church today. 

So we are looking for a children's ministry director to help us love, nurture, and protect our children. We're looking for someone with a loving heart, creative and entrepreneurial spirit to join our team as we substantially create ministry teams and plan preview services. 

You can download a job description here. Any inquiries should be directed to Pastor Robbie via our contact page.

The Gospel Root of Hospitality

Hospitality.

We all know what this is. Or, between hospitality management majors and Martha Stewart, we are supposed to. Neither are right. On one hand the hospitality industry - comprised of hotels, restaurants, and more - teaches that hospitality is a business transaction that is only available to you if you have money. If you want a bed, then you got to pay. If you want a meal, then it is going to cost you. Then on the other hand: Martha Stewart, Instagram, and kinfolk all give us the notion that hospitality is all about presentation. 

If we buy into either of these lies, we never truly practice hospitality and completely miss the life-giving, life-changing impact that it has on our lives. If we believe that hospitality is more of a business transaction, then we are always looking for something in return when we practice hospitality. If we believe hospitality is about entertaining, then we are always putting on a show. We never let people into the mess of our lives. 

So what is hospitality? 

Hospitality is making room for other people amid the craziness of our everyday lives. Hospitality is the practice of creating space for people at work, at home, around the dinner table, at the sporting event, going grocery shopping, and sharing a drink with others. Hospitality is about making room for others in our schedules, in our places, and in our hearts. 

Hospitality is throughout all of the Bible, from the Old to the New Testament. We see Abraham greeting angels unaware. God commands Israel to make room for refugees and nomads as they travel through their land. We see Jesus coming “eating and drinking.” God even requires leaders in the church (i.e. elders) to be hospitable. While hospitality is throughout all the Bible, it actually is a dominant theme. 

Romans 15:7, “Therefore welcome one another, as Jesus has welcomed you.” 

The Gospel is a story of hospitality 

The Apostle Paul situates the Christian practice of hospitality in the gospel. The good news of Jesus is that he made room for us. He told his disciples: “In my father’s house are many rooms… I am going there in order to prepare rooms for you.” Perhaps this reality is best seen in one of the most well known stories that Jesus told, ‘The parable of the prodigal son.’

As the story goes: there were two brothers, one older and one younger. The older brother was reliable, professional, and competent. He was the perfect older sibling who kept all the rules. The younger brother, on the other hand, was rebellious. He always fought against his dad. So one day he told his dad: ‘You’re dead to me. Just give me my inheritance and I’ll leave you alone.’ The dad did just that. The younger brother went away and partied, while the older brother stayed and helped out his dad regain the financial loss. 

The younger brother partied and spent all the money his dad bequeathed him. So he decided to come home and ask to be a servant. When the dad saw him walking up the long driveway, the dad ran to him! The father embraced him and told his servants to throw the best BBQ smoke the town has ever seen — all in honor of his son's return.

Then we come to the older brother. He saw everything that was going on and refused to join the celebrations. It wasn’t because he resented his brother; he refused to join the party because he shared the same attitude his younger brother had. He was only a good son to get all the good stuff from his father, which is what the younger son did through his rebellion. 

The Father saw that his older son was not at the party, so he came out to him and asked: “what’s wrong son? Will you come into the party?” 

The Father, despite his sons’ resentment of him, loved them both. When his younger son embraced his folly and spiritual poverty, the Father threw the biggest party. But what kept the older brother from enjoying the party was his own refusal to join the party, out of a deep resentment for the lavish celebratory love of the Father. 

So here's the questions before us: 

Have you experienced the welcome of God? 

Do you welcome others as God welcomed you?