Worship that transcends language

The pastors at the Pentecostal Church of Montrouis, Haiti gathered around me after the June 17, 2018, service to pray for me as I prepared to head back to the U.S. after spending six months in Montrouis. Our young ministry friend and occasional translator, Dave Damien, came up to help with the translating.


(Message delivered at the Pentecostal Church of Montrouis, Haiti on June 17, 2018)

(Sermon audio available here.)


Good morning, church.

Thank you, pastor, for allowing me to speak to your congregation today. And thank you, church, for making me a part of your family for the past six months.My last day in Montrouis is Tuesday, and on Wednesday, I will leave Port au Prince for my home and family in America. I am certainly excited to rejoin my wife and the rest of my family there, but my heart breaks for having to leave so many beloved new family members here.

I will continue to come back and serve in Haiti, but I do not know whether God’s plan will include another long-term visit like the one that now draws to a close. Either way, a piece of my heart will remain here, and you all will always be in my thoughts and prayers.

There is a part of me that wishes my American friends here were not visiting your church today. They’re going to hear this sermon in English, and so they will not get the full impact of worshiping with you here.

You see, I have come to realize that God had some lessons for me here in Haiti that He could only teach me as I sat in churches where I was unable to understand the language.

Here’s one very direct lesson I want to share with you today: Worship is not what we do here or in American churches on Sundays; what we do in church on Sundays should be the RESULT of our worship throughout the week. And what we do in church on Sundays is not about us — or at least it should not be about us.

Supply and Multiply translator and ministry partner Shamma Simeon helped me deliver the message.

I don’t know if this happens in Haiti or not, but in America when we’re leaving church, families often talk about the service they’ve just attended. And it’s not always nice.

  • “That music today was terrible! I didn’t know the words.”
  • “I don’t know what kind of point the pastor was trying to make today, but whatever it was, he missed the mark.”
  • “Did you see what Madam so-and-so was wearing today?”
  • “I sure wish they would do the announcements at the end of the service.”
    • Or the beginning.
    • Or in the middle.

It seems that everyone has some special thing they think would make Sunday morning more meaningful to them. If we leave the service without feeling closer to God than we felt when we arrived, we all become great critics of all the things that we want to blame for the distance.

But for the most part, I think we’re missing the point. I’ve learned something here in Haiti: We don’t even have to be speaking the same language to worship God in spirit and in truth.

When we make our very lives an act of worship, then the time we spend gathered together as the church — the time we spend being the body of Christ — will be simply a further expression of the recognition that God is worthy of all praise and honor and glory. Those offerings extend across all cultural lines, across all language barriers and across all age divisions.

Turn with me to Ephesians, Chapter 2, and let’s look at what Paul had to say to the church in Ephesus about all this. We’ll be starting with verse 17. As you turn there, let me give you a little background.

The church in Ephesus had some unique challenges. One big challenge was the fact that it included converts from both the Jewish and Gentile communities there.

They spoke the same language, but they were from very different cultures. They had different cultural and religious traditions. So there was much for them to learn about how Christ’s church should function across cultural divides.

In this letter, Paul describes the church as a collection of parts working together for the same master and toward the same purpose.

In one sense, he is talking about how different people with different spiritual gifts contribute to the healthy operation of their church. But there is a larger sense intended here, as well. All of the world’s true churches of Christ are part of the one great, universal church that will be His bride in the Kingdom of Heaven.

That universal church has many different parts with many different cultures and even languages that make them distinct. But here is what I have come to understand while worshipping with you this year — and it’s also what Paul is teaching here: Far more binds us together than separates us.

Let’s look at what Scripture says about that in Ephesians 2:17-22:

17 And He came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near;

18 for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father.

19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household,

20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone,

21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord,

22 in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.

OK, so remember that Paul was writing this letter to help the encourage unity among the Ephesian Christians, who came from two different cultural traditions.

The ultimate purpose of this passage is to remind the church of its reason for existing. But first, Paul has to remind us of HOW we came together and IN WHOM we came together.

Jesus came and preached the same message to everyone, a message of peace for those far and near. We didn’t read the verse, but back in Verse 14, Paul reminds us that Jesus is the one who broke down the barriers between the Jews and the Gentiles. Similarly, He breaks down the barriers between His churches of different cultures today.

We have received the same message of Peace, which gives us the same access to the same Father through the binding work of the same Holy Spirit.

Because of the work of Jesus Christ on the cross, whoever will confess his sins and make Jesus his Lord and Savior is adopted into His family. We are promised that God looks at us as joint heirs with Christ. We are brothers and sisters with Him and with each other.

I can tell you that I have experienced this blessing in a huge way during the past six months. My wife, my mother and my earthly family are all back in America, and I have missed them dearly. But I have gained a new family here in Haiti that will be incredibly hard for me to leave on Tuesday. Gary and Shamma and Pastor Jeremy and many others her in Montrouis have become far more than just friends to me.

And that’s the kind of relationship to which we are called under Christ.

As Paul says in this passage, we are no longer strangers and aliens. We are one household of God, we are one nation of God, and we are one people of God.

Our standing as brothers and sisters in Christ binds us to each other as a family, and that relationship is even greater than the one we have with our physical families. Our standing with Christ binds us together as citizens of a Kingdom that is greater than our earthly nations. And it binds us together as a people greater than the language differences, the color differences and the cultural differences that we sometimes allow to divide us.

When the church is operating as God intended, it is being built each day upon the cornerstone, Jesus Christ. When the church is operating as God intended, it is growing each day, being fitted together here in Haiti, back in America and all around the world — wherever people acknowledge Jesus Christ as King of kings and Lord of lords.

And when we all get to heaven, not even our languages will separate us.

Turn with me to Revelation, Chapter 7, verses 9 and 10 to see what that will be like.

9 After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands;

10 and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

Do you see what it says there? We will worship Christ there with ONE loud voice. Whatever language is spoken in heaven, we will all understand it. What a wonderful thing that will be.

I’ve spent six months now trying to understand Creole. I do not speak Creole like a rat; I speak Creole more like a mouse. A baby mouse. But I’m still trying.

What a blessing it will be for us to be in heaven and all understand each other, for us to be able to lift our voices in shared worship. Imagine the sound of that worship service. What a glorious noise we will make for our King!

And as we honor our King, we are connected to each other and to the church that has existed throughout history. As Paul describes it here, the foundation of the apostles and prophets was built on the cornerstone of Christ Jesus.

So we are connected to the promises of the prophets through Christ. We are connected to each other through Christ. And we are connected to the Father through Christ.

Jesus reaches back through history – all the way back to the Garden of Eden – to connect those who came to His Father in faith, just as He connects those of us today who come to Him in faith.

And in connecting us all, He is building something more beautiful than we can imagine.

Elsewhere, Scripture tells us that the Holy Spirit dwells within each believer from the moment he believes. But in this passage to the Ephesian church, we are taught that an even greater miracle will be achieved with the holy temple that Jesus is building from His church.

Recalling that this passage is talking about the universal church, rather than simply individual members of a church, the picture here is of the Holy Spirit dwelling within the sanctified Bride of Christ.

We are not EACH the Bride of Christ. And the Bride of Christ is not individual churches. The bride of Christ is all of Jesus’ followers in all of the churches that worship Him by submitting to His spiritual leadership.

So what does this mean to us here today? What does it mean as I prepare to go back to America on Wednesday and as my two families in two different nations think about what it means to worship God in spirit and in truth?

First, this: If the Bride of Christ is to be sanctified, she must pursue sanctification. And Jesus, praying for the disciples, gave us a clue about how that looks. Here is what He said: “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.”

Whatever you do in this church, whatever songs you sing, whatever instruments you add to your worship team, whatever special programs you choose to hold, NEVER let yourselves be distracted from the Word of God.

In God’s Word, we will always find Truth, and through it we will be sanctified. Through it, the church will be made pure for Christ. If we commit to the straight Truth of God’s Word, our churches will be unstained by the world. But the moment we turn from His Word, our churches are in grave danger.

Next, we must always remember what I mentioned at the outset today: What we do in our churches on Sunday is only the spoken expression of our worship. True worship takes place in action. True worship, frankly, takes place outside the walls of this building.

When we confine God to the songs and the words uttered in church, we defile Him by ignoring His commandment to love our neighbors – and even our enemies – as ourselves.

James, the brother of Jesus wrote that “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself undefiled by the world.”

This means that missionaries cannot allow themselves to serve others only when they are in the field. And our local churches cannot wait for the widows and orphans to come and sit with us on Sunday. Christian churches — and Christians — in every community in every nation on Earth are called to GO and serve the least of these.

We do not show Christ by the songs we sing in church. We do not show Christ by the sermons we preach. We show Christ by our love – and that doesn’t just mean to be nice to each other in church on Sundays — although we should surely be doing that.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.”

If we as a church are not serving the very people who hate us, then we are missing a very large part of what it means to be adopted into the family of God. And brothers and sisters, I can assure you that we will not find those who hate us joining us for church on Sunday morning.

Next week, I will be in church among people who speak the same language as me, singing songs that I know and listening to a message that I can understand. A piece of my heart will remain here in Haiti, but I will take comfort in the knowledge that you and I are praising the very same God, thanking Him for the very same Savior who binds us all together.

And I will have joy in the knowledge that many of you here have worshiped our God all week long by showing the light of His Son all around this community that I have grown to love so much. Keep worshiping Him in your service to your neighbors, even the ones who hate you for His name’s sake.

Thank you, church. May God richly bless you. And may He be glorified in all we say and do.

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