Psalm 122 – Why Go to Church? – Part 2

There are many reasons why people stop going to church. Here is a survey with the top ten reasons. Some reasons mentioned here are valid ones, but some are just an excuse for people who do not want to go to church. 

Top Ten Reasons People Stop Attending Church

1. Simply got too busy

2. Family/home responsibilities prevented attendance 

3. Church members seemed hypocritical 

4. Church members were judgmental of others 

5. Moved too far from church 

6. Work situation prevented church attendance 

7. Church was not helping me develop spiritually 

8. Stopped believing in organized religion 

9. Church was run by a clique that discouraged involvement 

10. Got divorced/separated 

We live in a time that people do not need a good excuse or reason to stop attending church. Just not willing to go would be a good reason for many. They do not need to explain or defend their decision. They just don’t go, period.

The Psalm 122 gives us strong and important reasons to go to church. The second one is because church is a HAVEN. In a quick changing world where we do not know anymore where we are and what is going on; the church provides a sense of security and protection.

This is what the psalmist states in the verse 3:“[3] Jerusalem is built like a city that is closely compacted together.” Those pilgrims had to travel long distances and sometimes they crossed dangerous areas. To get to Jerusalem with its big walls and strong gates was a relief for them.

That is the same feeling that we should have when we come to church – a time of relief and refreshment in our spiritual life. Church should be a place where everybody feels safe and protected.

The third reason to go to church is to WORSHIP. We go to church not only to escape from the world, we go there to worship God and praise His name.

The second part of the verse 4 states this: “[4b] to praise the name of the Lord according to the statute given to Israel.” Our main goal in church is to Praise the name of the Lord. He is the most important person in our service.

Sometimes we substitute Him with things, people and activities. It is not the Pastor; it is not the choir; it is not the children, nor the elders. It is not the music style and the facilities. The Lord is the one who should be praised and worshipped.

The second thing that the verse mentions is that we should do that “according to the statute given to Israel.” That means that we should worship God according to His Word.Sometimes we do many things in the service that has no place or support in His Word; we do it because we like it, or because we always did it that way. Worship should not be about personal preferences. We do not go to church to do what we want or like. We go to the church to worship the Lord according to His statutes.

Have a blessed week,

Pastor Lucas

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Psalm 122 – Why Go to Church? – Part 1

Barna Research shows us that Church attendance is going down. Of course, we do not need to have a research company tell us that, because we can count our attendance every Sunday.

According to Barna:

“43% of American adults attend church in a typical weekend. (2002)

From the mid-eighties to the mid-nineties, church attendance was on a roller coaster ride. In 1986, 42% of adults attended a church service during a typical week in January. Attendance rose steadily, reaching a peak of 49% in 1991, before beginning a very slow but steady descent back to 43% in January 2002.

People are not attending church, even the members are not coming for regular services. The percentage of members attending church  on a weekly basis is around 35%.”

Barna also tells us something very interesting “Among the 7 Most Controversial Statistics”: “4. By the end of the decade, 50 million Americans will seek to have their spiritual experience solely through the Internet, rather than at a church; and upwards of 100 million Americans will rely upon the Internet to deliver some aspects of their religious experience.”

Even though those numbers are from 2002, they reflect the same tendency in recent surveys.

People are looking for other places and venues to supply their spiritual needs. Church is not the main source of spiritual growth and spirituality anymore.

The Psalm 122 being a Psalm of Ascent tells us the excitement of the people when they were going to church. The Psalmist says: “I rejoiced with those who said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.” The idea of going to church would bring joy and happiness.

Do you remember the last time that you had joy when thinking that you were going to church? Is it the same happiness that you have when you go to a ball game, a movie theater, or a show? Are the expectations and excitement the same?

Why should we be so happy and rejoice when we go to church?

Why should we go to the church at all? This psalm will give us some good reasons to go to church.

The first reason is the FELLOWSHIP. That is the first reason to go to church that the psalmist gives us, fellowship. The journey was never alone for those who were going to Jerusalem. Families and friends would organize a caravan to go to worship. The idea of someone going by himself was unthinkable. 

Verse 2 expresses this idea: “[2] Our feet are standing in your gates, O Jerusalem.”

And verse 4 tells us that the tribes would go up together. “[4] That is where the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord,” There was an expectation not only to go with family and friends, but also to see families and friends who lived in other parts of the country, and some in other parts of the world.

In this journey we go together because we are the tribes of the Lord. We are the family of God, we are brothers and sisters and this is a family gathering. Everyone is supposed to be there. We will be there to face all the hardships together. We will help each other during the journey.

There is inside of each one of us a desire to belong, to be part of something bigger. The church, the Family of God, gives us this opportunity.

Have a blessed week,

Pastor Lucas

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Psalm 121 – Who is watching over you? – Part 2

Have you ever been in a place where you were alone and feared for your life, a place where you would not have anybody to help you or protect you? Yes, sometimes we find ourselves in situations where we do not have anyone around to protect us.

In the Psalm 121, the psalmist is singing his confidence that no matter the circumstance, no matter the enemy, God would protect him. He is sure that THE LORD WILL BE THERE ALL THE TIME. The second lesson that we learn from this psalm is that God, this wonderful and powerful God, will be there with us all the time.

It is important for us to remember that the people were traveling from far away to Jerusalem to worship God. In their journey they would cross many enemies’ lands. They needed protection during the trip, not only at home, or at the Temple.

This is what the psalmist is saying; God will protect them all the time. The verses 4 and 8 help us to realize that God will be there for us all the time. In verse 4 it says that He will not slumber nor sleep “[4] indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.”

In verse 8 he says that He will be there when we come and go, and that will be now and forevermore, “[8] the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.”

Sometimes we think that God will help us only when we are pure and right, or in the church under the temple’s roof. This psalm tells us that God will protect us all the time. When we decide to take this journey to God, God Himself will protect us all the way. We will become His responsibility, and He will take care of us.

Finally, the psalmist says that God, THE ALMIGHTY GOD, WILL PROTECT US AGAINST EVERYTHING. He will protect us against all the enemies that we face in our lives. Verse 6 tells us that neither the sun nor the moon will harm us, “[6] the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.”

Verse 7 tells us that the Lord will keep us from ALL HARM. And more than that, He will watch over our life, the word life means SOUL, “[7] The Lord will keep you from all harm–he will watch over your life;” The Lord is the one who will protect your soul, in the middle of the struggles that you face. Against all the doubts and confusion, the Lord will be there to protect you.

When you decide to come to the House of God to worship Him; when you decide to follow Him with your life and time and talents; when you commit yourself to His cause; He will commit Himself to you; He will take care of you; and be sure that you are protected to do what you decide to do.

When we are willing to serve Him, He is willing to protect and watch over us.

Have a blessed week,

Pastor Lucas

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Psalm 121 – Who is watching over you? – Part 1

I do not know about you, but I had a mom that was very, very strict. I, and everybody else knew where she stood. My dad, on the other hand, was the opposite; he never raised his voice to me. My mom, not only raised her voice, but also her hands, belt and everything that was in her reach. But instead of being mad at her I knew then and I surely know now, that she would protect me when I needed.

Many times in my life she would be there to watch and see what was going on with me. When I was in trouble I knew that she would be there to defend me. When I was in the army she would joke saying that, “the whole company but Lucas’s out of step!” For her I was the only one right, everybody else was wrong. Even if I was wrong, she would protect me.

That sense of security and protection is very important for us. We all need to know that someone is there for us. For some of us, it is the mom, dad, an older brother or sister, for some it is a good friend, or their spouse. We need that security emotionally, physically, and spiritually. 

The problem that we face is that these people, like our moms, dads, and the others, cannot deliver the whole package. They can protect us sometimes, and in some areas, but not all the time in all areas. This is why we need somebody else to watch over us.

The Psalm 121 touches this important point in our lives. It talks about SecurityProtection, and Safety. When the psalmist says: “I lift up my eyes to the hills–where does my help come from?” He has in mind, at least two kinds of protection: The first one is The Natural Protection. The mountain means the natural protection. The cities were built on the hills, which would make it harder for an attack. The second one is The Spiritual Protection. At that time people would worship gods on the hilltops. They would get the highest mountain and build an altar to invoke some god for their protection.

The psalmist is telling us that his protection would not come from the geographic position of the hills or the gods from the hills. His protection would come from the God Almighty. He is the one that would watch over us.

In this psalm he tells us who is the God in whom he trusts for his security. He says: He is the almighty God.

The first thing that the psalmist says about his God is that He is the Almighty God. The psalmist calls Him The Lord, which means: Yahweh, the “I Am”, The Creator of Heaven and Earth.

The idea is that our God is an almighty God. He is extremely powerful and can do anything that He wants. He is the creator of the universe and He can take care of each one of us. He knows the names of the stars, He knows everything about our life, every need that we have, and every preoccupation that crosses our minds and hearts is in front of Him.

As you can see, He is great, wonderful, powerful, and He is our God.

As you read and pray this psalm say out loud: THE LORD AMIGHTY IS MY GOD!

Have a blessed week,

Pastor Lucas

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Psalm 120 – Lord they are against me – Part 3

Our generation is moving rapidly away from Christendom. We are not only witnessing but also experiencing an invasion of different cultures and religions. This, for some people sounds exciting, but for others looks like a threat. We are losing our space, our identity, and in some cases our own faith.

Some of us, who have had the opportunity to live in another country and experience a totally different culture, can understand better what the psalmist in this psalm is saying. Some of us were treated well because of our faith, but some were viewed and considered enemies, someone who was not welcomed in that place. The psalmist in this psalm is talking about the latter.

How can you live in a place where you and your faith are rejected? How can you practice your faith when people only say negative things about you and your beliefs? And not only that, they were dealing with people lying and inventing stories about them and their religion to discourage them. 

In this psalm we learn how to face this kind of situation. We should live with God’s help. The people of God knew that those lies were intended to discourage them, to make them turn away from their faith in God, and to stop their journey.

In this psalm we learn the right responses to this kind of attack:

            A – Crying to the Lord

We cannot win this kind of battle trying to explain every gossip, and lie about us. The Lord is the only one who can help us during this time. We do not have all the answers. We do not know how to deal with this situation. The only way is to go to the Lord and cry for help.

            B – Knowing that He will hear

The psalmist is sure that the Lord is paying attention to his crying. The Lord is listening. He knows our needs and He will answer. It is the Lord that will take care of the situation.

            C – Knowing that He will punish them.

The terrors of the Lord are his arrows; and his wrath is compared to burning coals of juniper, which have a fierce heat, and keep fire very long. The Lord will take care of the lying lips, deceitful tongues, and the false tongues.

            D – Knowing that He will deliver my soul

The main focus here is our soul. At the end it is our soul that is in danger here. If the enemy stops us from coming together to worship God and to serve Him and His people, we will damage our own soul. This is why people cried to the Lord, because their souls were very, very important.

Everyday in our lives we hear things against our God, our beliefs and our lives as Christians. Sometimes those sayings and opinions will damage our soul, will weaken our faith, and will make us diminish our participation in God’s Kingdom, and our involvement in His church.

Because of that we must cry out to the Lord and ask for help, knowing that He is there with us, He will hear our cries for help, and He will respond.

Have a blessed week,

Pastor Lucas

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Psalm 120 – Lord they are against me – Part 2

There was a time, when I was a pastor in Brazil, that I made some small changes in the liturgy of my church. We decided to have a guitar player, we bought a drum set, and we added some praise and worship songs in our liturgy. People could raise their hands during the service and we would clap our hands during the songs, things like this. I never thought that this would create a huge commotion in our presbytery and synod. 

Because of that I started facing a strong opposition. People would come to record my services, gossip was spread all over the town, and I even received anonymous letters condemning me. Of course those things were aggravated by my preaching style, even though at the time I did not use it inside the church, only in youth events.

It was a tough time, not only for my church, and myself, but also for other churches that started doing the same thing. I wrote a book telling that story, “A Doutrina da Gravata” (The Doctrine of the Tie). It got to the point that there was no place for me to develop my ministry. This was the main reason why I left Brazil.

We all face opposition in our lives. If you believe in Christ and follow Him, you will face opposition. In Psalm 120, the psalmist is telling that they were living with opposition on a daily basis. That is the second lesson that we learn here. They had to live and travel among people who would oppose them and their faith. Those people were pagans, they did not have the same spiritual background, which meant, they did not have the same beliefs, the same doctrines, and they did not have the same values that the people of God had.

The psalmist tells us that the most powerful weapon of these enemies was their tongue. These are the terms that the psalmist uses to describe them: Lying lipsDeceitful tongues, and False tongues.

The question is: what the enemies will try to do with their tongues and lies? What are their goals and their purposes? Let me share a few of them with you.

A – The enemy wants to convince us that we are not God’s children, nor good enough. That is the first thing that the enemy will try to do. They will say, “why do you have to go to the presence of God, if you are not His child? You are not good enough. Why should God  accept you?”

B – The enemy wants to convince us that coming to church is useless. They will try to convince us that church and service has no value in times like this. It is simply not practical. They will say, “Why would you waste your precious time with church? It is useless. There are many other better things to do on Sunday morning.”

C – The enemy wants to convince us that the best way to solve a problem is through the use of power. Finally, the enemy would try to convince us that we should use our own strength, ability, and power, to solve our problems. “You are on your own. Spiritual life and church involvement will not do anything to help you to solve your problems.”

As you can see, those lies have the ability to weaken our resolve to follow Christ and serve Him. Little by little we will listen to them and finally we will start believing in them. Probably this is the reason that this psalm is the first one that people would sing when they started their journey to worship God.

Have a blessed week,

Pastor Lucas

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Psalm 120 – Lord they are against me – Part 1

When Marta and I moved to Cincinnati, we experienced another cultural shock. I had one in New Jersey, as a Brazilian moving to the U.S. I had another one when in New Jersey I worked only with Portuguese speaking people. That was something that I was not expecting. Everywhere I went in that area I could find a store, restaurant, grocery store, gas station, and church where the main language was Portuguese.

Even though I worked for some time with an American church, my main ministry was with Portuguese speaking people. When we moved to Cincinnati, everything, and I mean EVERYTHING changed. There was just a small group of Brazilians there, and we found them because of the World Cup, when we saw a Brazilian couple being interviewed by a TV news reporter.

I remember when we started to search for a church; Marta would get the Yellow Pages, as there was no Internet or Google at that time. That can tell you how long ago this was. It is too bad that we did not have a smart phone at that time to record those conversations. Her first question was not about the doctrine, the government of the church, the location, no, not at all, the first question, and the most important was: “Do you have a drum set?” We were used to worship with a contemporary style, and it was natural to look for something that would resemble our experience.

The first Psalm of the Accents is the first step in the journey to Jerusalem to worship the Lord, and it started in a far land. A land where the culture was different, the language was different, and the religion was different.

The Psalmist tells us that they were living among other people, people who were different from them. They started their journey in a place that was totally different from theirs. Two places are mentioned here, Meshech and Kedar. One is in the north end and the other in the south end of Palestine.

They had to travel all the way from those places to Jerusalem. They had to camp in the middle of those people and do business with them during their journey. They were strangers in that land.

The second thing that we learn is that they were living among people that did not believe in the same God that they did. They lived among pagans. They were people who did not know the Lord. That means they did not have the same beliefs and values that the people of God had.

The people of God had to live and work and serve this people. Because of that, sooner or later, they would talk about God and church and spiritual life. Every time that they had to go to Jerusalem to worship, they had to explain the reasons to go, and share their beliefs with their neighbors, bosses, etc.

Finally, they were experiencing violence. They had to live with violence. We live in a country in which you can believe in any other god, and have any kind of worship, and people will respect that, even though they do not agree with you. It was not so at that time. Having another God and worshiping in a different way was risky.

Power was the language that they knew. Strength and force was used to resolve their differences, and they normally did that with violence and war. We are witnessing a little bit of this situation in the Middle East. The law of the land is the law of the stronger. If you do not believe in what the strong ones believe you are in trouble. 

Our world, at least in the western culture, is moving so fast from the foundations of the Christian Faith, that some of us can easily feel that we are living among other people in a distant land. Have you ever felt that way? If so, this Psalm is for you.

Have a blessed week,

Pastor Lucas

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The Songs of the Pilgrims

One day I was watching TV, when I found one of those infomercial programs. They were selling a collection of CDs from the 60s, 70s, and 80s. I could not believe it. It was the first time that I was seeing the singers of those songs that marked my youth. We listened to them on the radio, but I never saw them. I did not know if they were young, old, black, white, and even man or woman.

Those songs made me travel back in the past and revisit a time hidden in my memory. I started remembering places, people, events that I had forgotten a long time ago. Music has this ability to touch you, not only with the lyrics, but also with the sound. It touches us in our hearts in a very special way. 

Probably this explains why the Book of Psalms is the most cherished book in the Bible. People read the other parts, but they keep coming back to the Psalms. Music and poetry have this kind of power, no matter where it comes from. It is almost a spiritual thing.

In the book of Psalms there is a very special group of songs called “The Psalms of Ascents.” They are 15 psalms form 120 – 134. They are also called the Psalms of Degrees, or the Psalms of the Pilgrims. The scholars are divided on the reasons for this name. Some believe that it is because of the steps to the Temple, so each Psalm would be sung in one of the 15 steps to reach the Temple. That was never proved. Some believe that the ascent was related to the metric of the psalms, but that would be a stretch, since we do not know the music of those psalms.

Many interpreters believe that the pilgrims coming to Jerusalem to worship during the annual feasts sang those Psalms. The people of God were supposed to go three times a year to Jerusalem for the Spiritual Festivals. 

These are the commandments from God:

“Deuteronomy 16:16 Three times a year all your men must appear before the LORD your God at the place he will choose: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Tabernacles. No man should appear before the LORD empty-handed:” (See also Exodus 23:14-16) Here are the Festivals: PassoverPentecost, and Tabernacles.

During those journeys they would memorize and sing these songs. They would express their feelings, fears, desires and commitments to the Lord and His Temple. Probably this explains why most of them are short; it would be easier to memorize and teach them.

These psalms express the challenges that the people of God were facing in their personal lives and in their journey to Jerusalem. They describe the experiences that every child of God faces in his or her journey. They worship, they share their hope, they sing their sadness, they cry for help, they exult jubilantly, and they pray.

These psalms were memorized, taught, and sung, not only by individuals, but also by the community, the pilgrims and their families. They would tell their stories and learn from each other.

Do you have a cherished Psalm that you learned when you were young, or you recite when you are facing certain situations in life? Throughout these meditations based on the Psalms of Accents we will embark on a journey that I hope will lift your spirit and help you in your Christian journey.

Have a blessed week,

Pastor Lucas

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