God’s Presence

By Nate Green, Worship Pastor

Let me begin by saying that I don’t fully understand God’s presence (obviously!), so this isn’t comprehensive, but what I write here are things that we know are true about God’s presence from His revealed Word to us. God’s Word is living and active, His presence isn’t something to just know about, we should experience His presence.  God’s manifest presence and work are sometimes hard to understand, but that’s one of the beautiful things about our God. I resonate with Paul when he wrote the following:

“How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?’ For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:33-36)

So I’ll focus on what we know to be true about God’s presence. Three things I know to be true about God’s presence as revealed through His Word are:

  1. He is the initiator of our relationship, His presence is a gift and those who seek Him find Him.
    1. God is holy and desires fellowship with us. Sin is a barrier to our having fellowship with God. God provided the remedy for the barrier of our sin to be torn down and removed through the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross.
  2. His presence is revealed in the person of Jesus Christ (John 1, Entire book of Hebrews and New Testament for that matter : )
  3. His presence dwells within the believer through God the Holy Spirit.

I also want to address some confusion surrounding the topic of God’s Presence and the Worship gathering.

I am deeply concerned about a “worship” culture that could mislead us into seeking an experience or feeling instead of seeking God Himself.

Energy in worship is not the gauge of whether God is present or not!!

We all like to feel good, but feeling good is not the plumb line of true worship and obedience to Christ. Obedience does not always feel good, and feeling good is not our motivation. Love for God should motivate our obedience. If we love Him, we will obey Him” (John 14:15).

Can you imagine hearing the following words from Jesus:

“You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!” (Mark 7:9).

Yikes, that gets my attention. We need to be careful to make sure we aren’t just following traditions of men in regard to worship and His presence. Our current American church worship culture would like us to believe that all we need for an excellent worship service (and to draw God’s presence), is a high energy experience with pumping sound, amazing lights, gifted musicians and a dynamic worship leader that knows how to get a crowd moving.

Sadly, these experiences can take place with or without honoring God’s presence. The components listed above don’t make up true worship that is pleasing to the Lord (in fact these components don’t make up any of the New Testament requirements for worship). As a worship pastor I swallow hard to think I could be getting off course if I follow the traditions of men rather than God’s Word and Spirit in these areas! Thankfully God’s Word guides us on what to do!

Jesus says in Mark 7:6-7, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” In Mark 7, Jesus makes it crystal clear that He is not looking for an outward spectacle or display of worship He is looking for obedience, humility and a transformed heart resulting in worship that comes from the inside out. He is seeking worshipers that will worship Him in Spirit and Truth (John 4:24).

There’s nothing wrong with lights, amazing sound systems, and great musicians. But, it would be wrong to depend on these things in order to experience God’s presence. None of these things draw God’s presence – His grace, our faith, obedience, repentance and humility draw His presence and allow us to have fellowship with Him (see Revelation chapters 2 and 3). 

A few years ago I read a book by Daniel Henderson titled “Transforming Presence”. I strongly recommend it. The following is a synopsis of his book as described on the back cover:

Why did Jesus say it would be better for Him to go?

He said the coming of the Helper—the Holy Spirit—was that important. And that the Spirit who so powerfully turned bumbling disciples into unstoppable world changers is alive in us. But misunderstandings, confusion, and contention are keeping us from the abundant, satisfying life God has for us in Him.

Transforming Presence teaches you what Scripture actually says about the indwelling Spirit of God who wants to revive us from the inside-out. It walks you through ten vital practices that will help you have a new experience of the Holy Spirit and shows you how to think, speak, (and sing) rightly about Him.

But be careful, when you approach the Holy Spirit like this—on His own terms—nothing in your life will ever be the same

Henderson writes extensively about human attempts to produce a Holy Spirit type atmosphere within church worship. As if the Holy Spirit was a force out there that needs to be drawn in through external means. The Bible teaches us that the Holy Spirit dwells with in us. He is working from the inside out in our lives.

Daniel Henderson quotes the following from Andrew Murray in his book:

“To everyone who honestly desires to know that he has the Spirit and to know Him in his person as a personal possession and teacher, we say: Study the teaching of the word in regard to the Spirit. Be not content with the teaching of the church or of men about the Spirit but go to the word… Be determined to accept nothing but what the word teaches, but also to accept heartily all that it teaches.”

As a church we’ve been going through the book of Haggai this summer in a series titled “Building God’s House”. There have been some helpful insights and reminders regarding God’s presence. In the Old Testament, under the Old Covenant, God’s presence was sought through the building of the Temple and through following the Old Testament laws of worship and sacrifice. God gave specific requirements for how the temple structure was to be built as well as instructions for worship within the temple. God’s presence was conditional to the keeping of the covenant between Him and His people, Israel. When the Old Testament temple was complete God appeared to Solomon (the king tasked with its construction) in a dream and said the following:

As soon as Solomon had finished building the house of the LORD and the king’s house and all that Solomon desired to build, the LORD appeared to Solomon a second time, as he had appeared to him at Gibeon. And the LORD said to him, “I have heard your prayer and your plea, which you have made before me. I have consecrated this house that you have built, by putting my name there forever. My eyes and my heart will be there for all time. And as for you, if you will walk before me, as David your father walked, with integrity of heart and uprightness, doing according to all that I have commanded you, and keeping my statutes and my rules, then I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised David your father, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.’ But if you turn aside from following me, you or your children, and do not keep my commandments and my statutes that I have set before you, but go and serve other gods and worship them, then I will cut off Israel from the land that I have given them, and the house that I have consecrated for my name I will cast out of my sight, and Israel will become a proverb and a byword among all peoples. And this house will become a heap of ruins. Everyone passing by it will be astonished and will hiss, and they will say, ‘Why has the LORD done thus to this land and to this house?’ Then they will say, ‘Because they abandoned the LORD their God who brought their fathers out of the land of Egypt and laid hold on other gods and worshiped them and served them. Therefore the LORD has brought all this disaster on them.’” (1 Kings 9:1-9)

God is always faithful and keeps His promises, but unfortunately Israel did not keep their covenant with God and God’s presence departed the Old Testament temple. One sure way of knowing that we are in God’s presence is when we are keenly aware of our sin in light of His Holiness. Just as Isaiah became aware of his sin in God’s presence (see Isaiah 6), the same is true of us today.

God’s presence brings conviction of sin:

God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.(1 John 1:5-10 and 2:1-6)

We can’t have fellowship with God and fellowship with sin at the same time. God is Holy and sin disrupts our fellowship with Him.

The Good News about God’s Presence Today:

The good news is that the Old Covenant is now obsolete (Hebrews 8:13). We don’t have to visit the temple in Jerusalem to “find” God’s presence, because that is not where His presence dwells anymore. Instead, we are now under the New Covenant that Jesus has provided for us. It’s a covenant through His blood given for us (see Luke 22:20). Jesus offered Himself, one time, on the cross as the perfect sacrifice made available for all (Hebrews 7:27). The Temple where God dwells is no longer a structure built by men, but is now our body where the Holy Spirit dwells.

“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

We are the Temple and the Holy Spirit dwells inside of us!! Wow!!

I’m so thankful that God’s presence doesn’t depend on my energy level. In fact it’s the opposite, we fully depend on Him. Remember, “We have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4:7), our bodies are broken temples that house the glory of God. We depend on His presence constantly.  “In Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).  “Whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies – in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter  4:11)

God’s presence is with us. And thankfully His presence doesn’t depend on our feelings, but on His Covenant with us.

Let’s abide in Him and maintain fellowship with Him.

Selecting Songs for Worship

By Nate Green, Worship Pastor

There are so many worship songs that are widely available and accessible to the church these days. This is good because God’s Word encourages and commands us to “sing a new song to the Lord” (see Psalm 96:1, 98:1, 144:9 and Isaiah 42:10). The challenge for worship leaders is which song to choose with so many great options available. Choosing which song to sing is kind of like going to a Mexican restaurant with 300 options on the menu and struggling to make a decision because it all looks so good! Here at CVC alone (within all the different ministries) we have used over 1000 different songs in the last 10 years. We also highly value the congregation’s ability to participate and sing along, and for that to happen, they need to know the song. So, we have decided to not introduce more than 1 new song on any given Sunday so that at least 3 of the songs will be ones that we have sung before and that our congregation should know.

There are 3 main criteria I use to filter songs for Sunday worship services:

1. Theologically grounded in the truth of God’s Word

2. Congregational – Is the song singable and memorable?

3. Style – Does the song fit within the overall genre of our CVC music culture?

Obviously, the most important of these three is the first criteria.  If we don’t get the first one right, we’ll be doing more damage than good in our spiritual growth and singular focus on what God desires from us in the area of worship – that we worship Him in Spirit and Truth (John 4:23).

Being Theologically Grounded in the Truth of God’s Word

The question is this. Do the song lyrics find their source in God’s infallible, inerrant, inspired, unadulterated Word? If worship song lyrics contradict God’s Word, or muddy the waters and are hard to interpret, then we should not be putting those lyrics in our hearts and minds. The following verses remind us how powerful God’s Word is:

It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”

  • John 6:63

“As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?’ So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”

  • Romans 10:15-17

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”

  • Hebrews 4:12-13

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

  • 2 Timothy 3:16-17

We can all agree that the Truth of God’s Word and His Holy Spirit lead us to Worship Him rightly. But, what if song writers don’t live up to the truth they profess?

Let’s be honest, a lot of the current discussion around song selection is being fed by this question. Should we keep singing songs written by people and churches that don’t live up to God’s perfect standard? This isn’t a new dilemma, it’s something we’ve wrestled with since sin first entered our existence and has been passed down from generation to generation.

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as ka propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

  • Romans 3:23-26

Yes, we are included within the category of those who fall short of God’s glory and standard. We must be very careful when taking a position of judgment over others.

A closer look at some of the hymn writers and church denominations of their age had similar issues to our modern day church. I find some great insight in God’s Word to help me navigate these issues.

Romans 3:3-4 puts it bluntly:

“What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God?  By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar…”

The context of Romans 3 powerfully speaks to the differences between God and man. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). We must be very careful to not become like the Pharisees and hypocrites by looking down on those who have fallen.

500 years ago, when Martin Luther helped spark the reformation, it was necessary to define authority within the church, especially since Luther had repudiated the authority of the Pope and other church officials. “What was left,” Luther wrote, “was the Holy Scriptures themselves.” The only inspired and authoritative Word of God. According to Luther the Word of God was the single source of doctrine and the only infallible guide to salvation. The Latin term he used, “Sola Scriptura,” has served to express this theological position ever since.

There is one who embodies perfect truth, Jesus Christ.  He is our example and one to be followed!

By singing songs written by imperfect people (myself included) who at times don’t have perfect theology/doctrine, we do not endorse everything the songwriter believes or does. We do endorse the truth within a song that is sourced from the Word of God. We endorse songs from God’s Word because it’s the only infallible source.

In Philippians 1:15-18 Paul says,

“Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.”

The principle Paul states here is to rejoice and agree with the truth. We can endorse the truth without endorsing the person that is proclaiming that truth. Paul is also the one who warns us the most about the dangers of false teachers and he encourages us to discern and know the truth. In Acts 17 we see that Paul and Silas commended the Bereans for examining their teachings against the Word of God to verify their teaching.  We are encouraged in God’s Word to not blindly follow leaders, but to test and examine teachings to see if they find their source in the truth of God’s Word.  Later in Acts 17 Paul addresses philosophers in Athens and uses the platform of their “unknown God” to proclaim the gospel to them. In doing so Paul is not endorsing worship of their “unknown God,” but he is seeking to make known to them the one true God so that they may worship Him.   

We will never be able to silence the lies that exist in this world (and that infiltrate the Church), however we can be girded with the belt of truth as we battle the father of lies (Ephesians 6:14). I would rather see that we shepherd our people on how to navigate these waters than to censor everyone we disagree with, because that is truly impossible.

Our job is to help equip others as stated in Ephesians 4:12-14:

“…to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”

As many of you know, looking for the counterfeit will not help us positively identify the truth. Instead, we must focus on knowing what is True and this will help us identify and weed out a counterfeit (belief, value, action).

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

  • Philippians 4:8

Let us declare through song what we know to be true about our God!

Pastor Dale’s Message Notes

Blessings promised to those that fear the Lord

A blessed life. Proverbs 28:14
Divine Wisdom. Psalm 111:10
Spiritual Knowledge. Proverbs 1:7
God’s Mercy. Luke 1:50
God’s friendship. Psalm 25:14
An aid in our Fight against Sin. Exodus 20:20

Characteristics of the God-fearing person

1. Intimacy with God.  Psalm 25:14
2. Never speaks disrespectfully about God. Malachi 3:16-17
3. Honor the Word of God.  Isaiah 66:2; Matthew 7:24-27
4. Live a holy life. 2 Corinthians 7:1
5. Obey no matter what. Genesis 22

Characteristics of the Heart that God Revives

Humility.  The Scriptures explain that “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).  In humility, therefore, we seek His grace by admitting our own great need, throwing off our self-sufficiency, and bowing prayerfully before our Lord.

Honesty.  Confession of sin avails us of the forgiveness and cleansing of God (1 John 1:9).  Experiencing personal revival always involves honestly dealing with our sins—both those committed against God and those committed against other people.

Repentance.  Seeking God’s face is not merely an exercise in rituals or words; it is really a change of direction.  Repentance involves turning from our sins so we can obey God instead of self.  As Paul wrote to the Ephesians, we must “put off” the old self and “put on” the new identity Christ died to provide for us (Ephesians 4:17-24).

Forgiveness.  Experiencing God’s forgiveness is one of the greatest blessings of the Christian life, and God requires that we pass that same blessing on to others who have offended, hurt, or taken from us (Ephesians 4:32).  As we come close to God for spiritual renewal, we must release the bitterness we hold and clear our sin accounts with others, extending forgiveness to those who have wronged us and seeking it from those we have wronged. 

Obedience.  From a position of humble repentance, we are now ready to say yes to Jesus in every category of our lives.  He is worthy of our obedience in everything from daily habits to major decisions.  Even our thoughts and motivations are important to Him (Luke 6:46).

Seeking His Kingdom First.  Obedience to God leads us to a complete reprioritization of life.  The ultimate aim of spiritual renewal is that each of us would walk with God, that we would demonstrate His love in a dark world, and that we would be a part of fulfilling the Great Commission task in our generation (Matthew 6:33; Mark 16:15).

Taken from Life in Action: 365 Days of Discovering True LifeThrough Abiding in Christ by Life Action Ministries

The Benefits of God’s Attributes

Because God is a personal Spirit, I will seek intimate fellowship with Him.

Because God is all-powerful, He can help me with anything.

Because God is ever-present, He is always with me.

Because God knows everything, I will go to Him with all my questions and concerns.

Because God is sovereign, I will joyfully submit to His will.

Because God is holy, I will devote myself to Him in purity, worship, and service.

Because God is absolute truth, I will believe what He says and live accordingly.

Because God is righteous, I will live by His standards. 

Because God is just, He will always treat me fairly. 

Because God is love, He is unconditionally committed to my well-being.

Because God is merciful, He forgives me of my sins when I sincerely confess them.

Because God is faithful, I will trust Him to always keep His promises.

Because God never changes, my future is secure and eternal. 

Taken from Discover God’s Character: 13 Key Attributes of God by CRU. https://www.cru.org/content/dam/cru/train-and-grow/life-and-relationships/13-key-attributes-of-god.pdf

A Statement on CVC’s Response to Sex Abuse Allegations in SBC Churches

Elders, staff, and members of Cuyahoga Valley Church have rightfully been concerned about the response to sexual abuse among the 47,000 Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) churches that make up the Convention in North America. 

A seven-month investigation was carried out by Guidepost Solutions, an independent company hired by the SBC Executive Committee (EC) after delegates at the 2021 national meeting called for an outside investigation.

The investigative report said that leaders at the Southern Baptist Executive Committee failed to respond with compassion to survivors of sexual abuse. Instead, these leaders cited the local autonomy of the local church as a reason for not reporting the sexual abuse and holding the abusers accountable.

The report concluded that allegations of sexual abuse and assault were filed confidentially at SBC headquarters in Nashville. The result was that some pastors with credible allegations of sexual abuse were able to move from a church where the abuse occurred to another church that knew nothing about the previous abuse.

The report from Guidepost Solutions was heartbreaking. SBC churches rightfully expected more, and deserved more, from our leaders.

The failure to report abuse put survivors in a position where they were forced to fight for themselves when the leaders of the SBC Executive Committee should have been fighting for them. As North Carolina pastor J.D. Greear said, “The church should be a place where people know they are safe and where leaders are who they say they are. Protecting the vulnerable is not a distraction from the mission, it is our mission.”

After the Guidepost Solutions report was made public, the CVC Missions Development Team (MDT) and the CVC Elders made the decision to withhold CVC funds given through the Cooperative Program to SBC mission causes. The MDT and the Elders wanted to make sure that proper actions would be taken by the SBC leadership to take measures to protect church members and attenders from further abuse, to hold sexual offenders accountable, and to support and care for survivors.

At the 2022 SBC Convention in Anaheim, the delegates almost unanimously voted for two recommendations related to sex abuse issues. One, a task force was created to oversee sex abuse reforms and to make additional recommendations to the 2023 Convention that will meet in New Orleans. Two, a database has been established – a “Ministry Check” website – to list credibly accused offenders associated with SBC churches in order to prevent abusers from easily moving to other congregations. In addition, leaders and advisors to the EC who were complicit to sexual abuse are no longer leading the EC. The new leaders of the EC have pledged to work to eliminate sex abuse within the SBC.

At a press conference following the session at the Convention in Anaheim, attorney and sexual abuse survivor Rachael Denhollander said the passing of the recommendations is the result of the “tireless efforts of the survivors” who “didn’t give up.” 

The delegates to the 2022 SBC Convention heard the cries of survivors for justice. Abusers have been held accountable. Steps are being taken to protect the vulnerable. Complicit leaders have been removed. Repentance is occurring. Change is taking place.

For these reasons, the CVC Elders and MDT feel confident that it is wise and good stewardship to release CVC funds to the Cooperative Program – funds that are used to support the missionary personnel of the International Mission Board, the North American Mission Board, 6 SBC seminaries, and the State Convention of Baptists in Ohio.

Read the International Mission Board report here

Read the North American Mission Board report here

Read the key resolutions from the Convention here

Read Christianity Today’s take on the Convention here.

If you have additional questions, you may email us at: connect@cvconline.org.

A Historical Moment

Those of us who remember 911, remember  where we were when we heard the tragic news and watched the traumatizing videos.

May today be a day where we remember where we were when we heard the good news that Roe V Wade was overturned!  What a righteous and historical win after decades of faithful prayer and hard work of all pro-lifers who have labored in one way or another for this cause.  The fight is not over but we need to rejoice in this win.  We believe the Lord is pleased by those who, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed.” (Prov.31:8 NLT)

May we not only continue to support pro-life efforts through prayer, giving, serving and supporting local ministries like Cleveland Pregnancy Center and Human Coalition, but even increase the way we engage by lovingly supporting, resourcing, and encouraging women who have unplanned pregnancies, who need post-abortive healing and care, and even seeing more CVCers back up their pro-life value by adopting, fostering, or mentoring.  

I found this brief little video encouraging. I hope it helps encourage you as well.

https://www.humancoalition.org/films/roe-is-overturned/

We know there’s still more work to be done, but we praise God today for the victory that has taken place in our nation.

Live new!

Chad Allen

WORSHIPING GOD ON HIS TERMS, NOT OURS

By Pastor Nate Green

How we worship God, or in other words, the “style” in which we worship God is an age old issue that we still wrestle with today. But God’s Word gives us clarity on what He desires from us.

One of the first Biblical glimpses we get of this is in Genesis 4 in the story of Cain and Abel.

“In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell.  The LORD said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen?  If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.’ ” (Genesis 4:3-7)

Hebrews 1:4  gives us additional insight into this story as well.

“By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.”

The offering itself was not the issue here (fruit or meat). The issue was within the hearts of Cain and Abel. The hearts expressed their faith and obedience (or lack thereof) to God. God discerned their hearts and allowed their hearts to be tested. The Lord warned Cain that sin was crouching at the door of his heart and that he needed to rule over it. But instead of obeying God, Cain gave into sin and killed his brother Abel. Abel on the other hand was commended for his faith and it was counted to him as righteousness. 

Fixating on the quality of the offering, or style of worship, can be very dangerous if we miss the heart behind it. We could easily become idolatrous by placing our own preference above what God desires from us.

So what does God desire from our worship of Him?

Let’s lay the groundwork.  We must worship God on His terms, not ours. When we read through the four gospels we see a lot of religious people believing that they were worshiping God, but in actuality were deceived and not worshiping Him at all! In fact, Jesus called some of these religious people “sons of the Devil” (see John 8:44). Jesus harshly rebuked them because their worship was not based on truth and did not recognize God for who He is. We must realize that we are all in danger of false worship and have a tendency to focus on the external methods of worship and forget what true worship is. John Piper, pastor and theologian, says the following about worship in his book written to fellow pastors titled Brother’s We Are Not Professionals:

“The New Testament reveals a stunning silence about the outward place and forms of worship and a radical intensification of worship as an inner, Godward experience of the heart manifest in everyday life.”

The Bible has much to say about the dangers of external worship devoid of inward heart transformation expressed through obedience to Him. Here are a few examples from God’s Word:

“These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught.” (Isaiah 29:13 + Matthew 15:8)

“For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.” (Matthew 23:25)

Reading these passages cause a check in my spirit. They are a healthy dose of questioning my fear of the Lord and my fleshly desire to look good on the outside. What is the condition of my heart worship before God? Am I seeking to please God or people?

We need to be very careful not to place too much emphasis on our worship environments or style! The early church was never commanded to build nice buildings and create beautiful settings for worship to take place. When the religious leaders of Jesus’ day asked Jesus for a sign, Jesus answered “destroy this temple and I will rebuild it in 3 days.” Jesus was speaking about His bodily resurrection, but they were fixated on their earthly temple. The point is this, Jesus should be the focus of our worship… let’s not glory in earthly temples or places of worship, or styles of worship.

Jesus said, “The day is coming when you will neither worship on this mountain or that mountain but God is seeking true worshipers, those who worship in Spirit and Truth.” (John 4:23)

God is seeking true worshipers, those who worship in Spirit and Truth.

How do we worship God in Spirit and Truth?

First of all, our hearts need to be transformed by Him, and that is something only He can do!

Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him…” (John 6:44).

We must realize that we are all spiritually dead in our sins. We are born as enemies of God in need of reconciliation with Him.

“And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard” (Colossians 1:21-23).

Once we receive grace from Him to know Him, we can then worship Him rightly – in Spirit and Truth. A huge factor of worshiping God in Truth is to “draw near to Him with a true heart in full assurance of faith.”

“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus,  by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”  (Hebrews 10:19-25)

The Reformer Martin Luther loved music and introduced music within church worship services during the reformation as a way of declaring and internalizing Biblical truths. He loved the music of his day, pipe organs, flutes, trumpets, and choirs. Likewise, we use the prevalent forms of music in our day (drums, bass, electric guitars, pianos) to express our praise to God. There will always be people that have issues with the style we use. For example, Andreas Karlstadt, another theologian during Luther’s age believed music had no place within the church and told his followers to “relegate organs, trumpets and flutes to the theatre. The lascivious notes of the organ awaken thoughts of the world.”

Churches are still arguing about this stuff. There are people within the church that do not like electric guitars and drums and think they are “worldly”. Let us clear the air, instruments in and of themselves are not sinful! The person using the instrument is who God is looking at. He is looking straight into our heart, not the outward appearance! The Psalms encourage us to use a variety of instruments in our worship of God. As Psalm 150 so beautifully states:

Let Everything Praise the LORD

Praise the LORD!

Praise God in his sanctuary;

praise him in his mighty heavens!

Praise him for his mighty deeds;

praise him according to his excellent greatness!

Praise him with trumpet sound;

praise him with lute and harp!

Praise him with tambourine and dance;

praise him with strings and pipe!

Praise him with sounding cymbals;

praise him with loud clashing cymbals!

Let everything that has breath praise the LORD!

Praise the LORD!

I’m so thankful that God allows us tons of freedom to express our worship and praise of Him! But, ultimately, He is interested in our hearts. He is interested in our obedience to Him.

Next time you have a conversation with someone about the musical style of worship, try bringing the conversation back to what God cares about. The heart.

CHURCH ON THE LAWN IS COMING BACK!

We’re bringing back Church on the Lawn this summer! We’ll hold Church on the Lawn the last Sunday of each month from May through August. Our goal as a church this year to become a UNIFIED FAMILY of believers who are motivated by the Great Commandment and devoted to the Great Commission. One of the ways we hope to accomplish this goal is to bring our entire church family together for ONE SERVICE once a month on the lawn. So that’s exactly what we’re going to do!

On the days when we have Church on the Lawn, we want EVERYONE to come together at 11 AM. That will be our only service time on those days. These will also be “Family Sundays” where families and all ages will worship together. We won’t have childcare available because we want to worship together as one family. So bring your lawn chairs and blankets and let’s worship together under the open sky!

We’re also inviting you to stick around after Church on the Lawn so we can all share a community meal together! We’ll do something different each month. On May 29, our CVC Elders are going to fire up the grills and cook for us. We’ll also have a food truck from East Coast Custard onsite where you can buy ice cream for dessert. Cornhole and other lawn activities will also be available.

For the most up-to-date information, check out www.cvconline.org/lawn. If you’d like to receive text updates about Church on the Lawn (including weather alerts), text the key word “lawn” to 440.276.5575.

If there is inclement weather, our service will move indoors with two service times at 9 AM and 11 AM.

Announcement from Pastor Chad Allen

Dear CVC Family,

I have always marveled at how God designed seasons into His magnificent creation.  Four seasons, each with their own distinctive and necessary nature.  Have you noticed that when the seasons change, you need to sacrifice something you like about one season in order to embrace what you appreciate about the next?  I absolutely love the vibrant colors, distinct fragrances, and comfortable temperatures of the fall here in Ohio, but it requires saying good-bye to the warmth, outdoor activities, and fireflies of the summer that I also enjoy in order to experience the fall.  Seasons change and we must adjust to the changes ourselves.

The changing season principle is now a reality for Cuyahoga Valley Church and the Allen family.  As many of you know, Rica and I, along with our family, came from California to Cleveland over 11 years ago to be part of this church.   We left family, lifelong-friends, and our previous church and ministry behind at God’s leading for me to be Lead Pastor of CVC.  During this season, we have experienced the knitting of our hearts to yours and shared in the joys and challenges of trying to build Christ’s kingdom side by side here in Northeast Ohio.  We look back over the past 11 years and celebrate the smooth transition from Founding Pastor Rick Duncan, increasing our church’s prayer culture, launching a new campus in Brunswick, hosting a Chinese partner church in our Broadview Heights location, planting churches such as Refuge Church in Old Brooklyn, seeing our ethnic diversity grow, the launch of our CVCGO ministry, eliminating our debt through the Unleash campaign, helping translate a Bible for our adopted unreached people group in Southeast Asia, growing our budget and generosity, kicking off Church on the Lawn, increased reengagement and attendance post-pandemic, the numerous people that have placed their faith in Christ and have been baptized, and more new people taking their next steps to grow in their faith.  These are just some of the celebrations and examples of momentum that we can all joyfully celebrate and thank God for!

The Allen family is now needing to embark on a new season, one that leads our family to begin transitioning back to the west.  With multiple unplanned trips back to California in the past 16 months, and with the sudden passing of Rica’s mother, we’ve been reminded of the brevity and unpredictability of life, and the importance of proximity to family.  Therefore, Rica and I believe God is leading us at this time to explore opportunities for our next ministry season in a location within striking distance to our family.  We are not sure exactly where that will take us or when that will be, but we want to operate with openness and integrity so that you can be praying with us as we explore, and that CVC can freely begin the needed planning to find the next Lead Pastor.  We do not want to go, but we feel that we need to go.  It makes our decision easier knowing that CVC is in a healthy place, growing, and gaining momentum.  Praise God!

By communicating now, it helps us both take our next steps of faith and trust in the Lord together and do our best to coordinate a leadership transition that will glorify God and help the church maintain momentum. Our prayerful desire is that the Lord will line up our next ministry post by fall of 2022 so that our children can begin their next school year/jobs at a natural starting point.  Until that time, I will continue to be your Lead Pastor.  I have already started working with our Elders to begin the early stages of a transition plan for the next Lead Pastor. We will be updating you as our plans come online and when we have more information. This will probably not be a short search process, but we have an outstanding Leadership Team who continues to advance God’s kingdom in greater Cleveland and around the world as evidenced by some of the wins mentioned earlier, as well as what was published in our recent 2021 annual report.

I’m aware that this news may produce shock and sadness for many of you and that you will need time to process this information and your feelings.   I assure you that CVC is in great hands.  The church belongs to the Lord, we have passionate and capable leaders driving our ministry vision and strategy, and we have incredible men and women of God such as yourselves who are praying, serving, and giving so that we can stay on mission for Christ.

In Isaiah 43, God says, “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old.  Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert” (Isaiah 43:18–19).

God doesn’t want us looking backward.  He wants us to lean into what He has for us in the future.  I believe He’s preparing to do a new and beautiful work in both the next season of CVC and the next season of the Allen family.

For now, I ask you to be praying for our family as we explore opportunities.  Please be praying for CVC as we initiate the process of finding the next Lead Pastor God has for CVC.  God has been doing a great work at CVC for 35 years, and He’s far from done!  Please continue to grow as a united family of believers motivated by the Great Commandment and devoted to the Great Commission who is focused on our mission of inviting people to new life in Christ.  Protect the unity of our church. There will be some people who will be tempted to use this news to cause division, discouragement, and distraction.  We can’t allow that to happen.  We have to focus on the mission, stick to our ministry strategy, and keep surging forward to take new ground for Christ.  Let’s be mutually committed to honor God, and honor one another through this transition as we mutually seek out what God has for us both in this next season.

There are not enough words to accurately describe how meaningful these years have been to me as your Pastor.  It has been a joyful honor.  I have, and will always have, an immense love and appreciation for this church community.  We are forever family.  Please know that wherever God leads the Allen family, our hearts will be near to the people and ministry efforts of CVC.  We look forward to return visits to CVC so that we can see you and personally experience the great work God will continue to do through you in CVC’s next season of fruitful ministry for Christ’s Kingdom.  I love you, I’m grateful for you, I’m grateful for the past 11½ years, and I’m grateful in advance for what’s to come for both of us.  To God be all the glory!

If you have any questions, please contact us at connect@cvconline.org.

Live New,

Chad D. Allen