worship

Where is the fear of God?

Where is the fear of God?

R.C. Sproul’s greatest contributions in my estimation are his works on worship. I’ve encouraged many people to read through his excellent little book, A Taste of Heaven. He observes the disjointed view people have when they separate God’s demand for reverence in the Old and his demand in the New:

One aspect of the modern church that most saddens and concerns me is that believers are no longer encouraged to have a healthy fear of God. We seem to assume that the fear of the Lord is something that belonged to the Old Testament period and is not to be a part of the life of the Christian. But fear of God involves not simply a trembling before His wrath, but a sense of reverence and awe because of His glorious holiness.

On Not Being Alone: Preparing our Hearts, Genesis 2

On Not Being Alone: Preparing our Hearts, Genesis 2

In Genesis 1, God offers a broad view of creation. In Genesis 2, the writer zooms into particular elements of creation, especially the creation of man and woman. Beginning in verse 18,

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”

We have typically looked at this passage and assumed that Adam saw the animals pass by frustrated that he couldn’t find a partner; someone who could take away Adam’s loneliness. But the garden is actually a proto-temple. It would be the model used when many years later God would build a place for his people to dwell and worship. The garden was a place of worship. We know this for many reasons, but we especially see this in the warnings God gives in Genesis 2. God commands his son, Adam, to eat of almost all trees, but not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. (Gen. 2:17).

If Eden is a proto-temple, and if God tells Adam that there are certain things in this proto-temple not to touch, then we have the elements of a worship service. Throughout the Bible, God says there are things we can do and other things that are forbidden. This is what the second commandment teaches when it says, “You shall have no other gods but me.”

Since this is a context of worship to God, Adam was looking for a worship partner. And this is why God says that the animals were not fit for Adam. Adam needed someone to sing, to praise, to share, and to eat together. And because he found no one to do these things, he was alone.

Beloved, you are not alone this morning. From the body of Christ at his death, God formed his bride. God has found a suitable helper for the second Adam. We are his worshipers and together we are here to worship the God/Man, Jesus Christ.

Eight Reasons Why Worship Must Be Hard Work

singingFrom Couch to Warfare

There is a great app called Couch to 5K. It’s designed for people who have become comfortable with the couch and have an allergy to the treadmill. It’s an incremental approach to working out. As the weeks go by we become more accustomed to the patterns established and we long to achieve the final level when we run an entire 5K. It’s hard work. My proposition is very simple: Worship is hard. We cannot remain comfortable in our pews. We need to start running the race. We may not be ready to run a 5K, but we need to be headed in that direction. And like running, worship requires habits and consistency. I am calling you to burn your calories in worship not because I am a controversialist or a tyrannical trainer but because I want you to be a healthy sacrifice to God. In fact, the formal synonym for worship is liturgy. Liturgy comes from two words: “Work” and “people.” Therefore, worship or liturgy can be accurately defined as the work of the people. 

Our Lord was so righteously angry by the easy business transactions (easy worship) of the Temple that he turned upside down the world when he overturned the tables of the money-changers (John 2:13-16). Such audacity should be imitated by God’s people, but cautiously exercised in light of our sinfulness. So here is my attempt to cautiously turn a few tables upside down with the hope that some will decide to keep it that way rather than try to put it back up or mend the broken pieces.

Worship has become perfunctory in our day. a The seeker-sensitive movement of the 90’s has morphed into a thousand strategic models for church growth. Some of these recommendations can be helpful, but the vast majority succumb to a moralistic therapeutic deismb that would be best spread in a meal for Baal than the God who made the heavens and earth.c Easy worship produces light Christians. Light Christians produce weak men and weak men produce feeble societies.

The Hard Work of Worship

These eight reasons are introductory in nature. Most certainly they can be edited or better stated, but in light of ecclesiastical trends and the high significance God puts in the worship of his name, these examples should be taken with great care.

First, worship must be hard work because God demands those who worship him to do so in “spirit and truth (John 4:24).” I take “Spirit” to mean in “Spirit-led” form. Worship must take a Spirit-shaped liturgy. It must be guided by the inspired words of the Spirit and a bathed dependence on the Trinity. Jesus demands that we take up the cross and follow him which is hard work lived out by the power of the Spirit.

Worshiping in truth also demands much from the worshiper. John the Baptist had borne witness to the truth (John 5:33) and that witness cost him his life. Thus, worshiping in truth is no easy task. Our gathered assembly must be prepared to fight hard to/in worship. If worship demands little or nothing from us, it fails the John 4:24 test.

Second, worship must be hard because God’s commandments require perseverance (Ephesians 6:18). Grace is not a synonym for a lackadaisical posture. Grace, rather, calls us to serve the Lord with our heart, mind, soul, and strength. The people of God are called to worship God by loving him and neighbor and both demand a high alertness to God’s principles for worship. Worship is a picture of our own spiritual walk. Passivity in worship may lead to passivity in our Christian walk.

Third, worship demands most work on the Lord’s appointed day. Many say that they can worship anywhere as a way to avoid worshiping in the consecrated time of worship on the Lord’s Day (Rev. 1:10). It is true that worship can take place anywhere, but the particular worship God commands is the worship of his gathered assembly (Heb. 10:25). Worship is hard because there are competing temptations that draw us away from the gathered assembly. Everything done in the name of God can be worship, but if it is used to substitute a clear call to worship him, it becomes less than worship and a violation of the principle of worship. God places a higher priority on gathered worship than on earthly tasks which are why we ought to apply ourselves with a greater fervency to Sunday worship than to other worshipful activities.

Fourth, worship demands postures. The Bible offers many postures for the Christian in worshipd) Worship has bodily demands for those who are able. It is hard work and requires a proactive response from the Christian. Passivity is not in the vocabulary of worship.

Fifth, worship teaches us patterns. The beauty of patterns is that it requires repetition. The angels in heaven maintain a glory pattern of worship day and night (Rev. 7:15). They are not discontent with the patterns or repetitions. They worship again and again. Similarly, earthly saints must repeat without fear, but with hunger to see such repetition become fervent and acceptable in God’s sight. Every stage of human life demand patterns whether kisses, hugs, sex, greetings, discipline in the home, waking, sleeping, eating, etc. Repetition is part of life. The thirst for the new and change in worship reflects a concern for human desires rather than God’s demands.

Sixth, hard work in worship stresses the mighty nature of God. It’s been many years since Christian Smith coined the phrase “moralistic therapeutic deism.” The phrase expressed a Freudian ecclesiology where the parishioner only sits and allows the clergy to do their thing. I once attended a church where one of the deacons faithfully recorded the member’s tithes and offerings during the service. He used the passivity of that worship service to “catch up” with work rather than working hard to participate and engage in the work of worship.

Seventh, hard work in worship teaches consistency in life. Someone who attended a congregation where hard work was expected from the people asked sarcastically: “Why do you all have to make things so complicated?” The question was addressed to a congregation that took worship seriously and demanded participation from its people. Ironically this individual cherished a hard work ethic and decried the lack of real men in our culture. “Work hard in school. Work hard to save money. Work hard to change a liberal culture,” he’d say. But be prepared to do little work when you come into worship was the implication. This inconsistency is consistent with the easy worship practices of many churches in our day. Let the experts do their thing, and our role is to simply sit and watch while we let others do the work for us. In economic terms, this is ecclesiastical socialism.

Finally, I offer four ways pastors and parishioners can train themselves to work hard on Sunday morning at the great assembly:

a) Disciple your children in worship. Fathers and mothers must be committed to keeping their children in worship with them. We don’t train children outside of worship so they can one day come into worship. Children are not distractions to be put aside during worship, they are disciples to be trained during worship. They have a fundamental role when we gather together (Psalm 8).e Children will generally become like their parents in worship. They will either work hard and sit passively while others do the hard work of worship.

b) Use hymnals instead of other means if possible. Hymnals demand musical knowledge.f You may not read music. You may not be musical. But using hymnals will require you to get out of your comfort zone and learn intricate and theologically rich melodies. I recently told my congregation that an Advent hymn we had just sung covered about ten essential theological doctrines in its seven verses. Hymns–and the Psalms–are sung religious education.

c) We are made to respond. Therefore, responsorial elements in worship are necessary (I Chronicles 16). Even in the easiest and relaxed worship environments, there are responses. If a pastor or a leader says, “Good morning,” the people will naturally respond similarly; the same with “Merry Christmas.” Theological greetings and responses should be an engaging part of the service (Ruth 2:4) that calls people to be attentive and prepared to answer with loud shouts of praise (Ps. 98:4). Worship is hard work and responses from the people serve to keep the people always aware and attentive.

d) Lastlyg, every service should have a bulletin; an order of worship. Worship becomes easy and flippant when the leader and the people go from one thing to the other without purpose or meaning or flow. I recall attending an evangelical church many years ago where the music leader chose our next song the moment he was called by the pastor. Quickly he flipped the pages and found a familiar tune to sing. Worship demands preparation. It’s hard work. And hard work leads to fruitful, engaging, and life-changing worship.

Offering Him Our Reasonable Sacrifice

These actions can be quickly taken by pastors and can be implemented without causing much consternation or division. Worship is discipleship training. We do the work again and again so we may become competent and equipped for it. Contrary to popular opinion, hard work in worship is not the invention of cranky Presbyterians who wish to take away our joy. In fact, the joy of the Lord is our strength. And the Lord takes joy when we are strengthened by worshiping Him. Working hard in worship has nothing to do with earning God’s favor; working hard in worship means God is deserving of our praise. We don’t come and offer Him the least we can give, we offer Him our spiritual sacrifice. Indeed we offer Him our entire self.

Worship is warfare. Warfare is hard. Worship prepares us for the race ahead. By the end of the hour, we should feel the exhaustion of having worshiped a great God who demands and is worthy of praise, confession, singing, adoration, kneeling, standing, and lifting holy hands. No one should come from such worship feeling lethargic. The liturgy–the work of the people–trains us for the hard work of perseverance through life. Let’s work hard with God’s people until our final rest when our work will be perfected by the God who calls us into His presence.

  1. This example serves only as an illustration of the kinds of things that are permissible in our day and highly encouraged.  (back)
  2. Language coined by Christian Smith  (back)
  3. See Terry Johnson’s Worshiping with Calvin for multiple examples of this: https://www.amazon.com/Worshipping-Calvin-Terry-Johnson/dp/085234936X/ref=pd_sbs_14_img_2?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=HRHPCNKJTWAT4RVM91VX  (back)
  4. Oh come, let us worship and bow down; Let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker! (Psalm 95:6); Lift up your hands to the holy place And bless the LORD! (Psalm 134:2); Give praise, O servants of the LORD, Who stand in the house of the LORD. (Psalm 135:2  (back)
  5. I understand there is need for cry rooms and perhaps age-appropriate Sunday School, but these do not hinder the centrality for young and old to be together for worship (Joel 2:16).  (back)
  6. Here is a great piece advocating the use of hymnals: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/ponderanew/2014/07/22/reasons-why-we-should-still-be-using-hymnals/  (back)
  7. and this is only introductory; more could be added  (back)
10 Questions Every Preacher Should Consider Before Preaching on Sunday

10 Questions Every Preacher Should Consider Before Preaching on Sunday

I have been a pastor for almost a decade. I spend between 12-15 hours each week thinking, researching, and writing before I deliver the first words in my Sunday sermon. The process of writing my sermon goes through a lengthy journey each week.  I contemplate several questions from Monday to Friday which force me to edit and re-edit my manuscript. There is no perfect sermon, but a sermon that goes through revisions and asks import questions has a much better chance of communicating with clarity than the self-assured preacher who engages the sermonic task with nothing more than academic lenses.

I have compiled a list of ten questions I ask myself each week at some point or another.

Question #1: Is this language clear? When you write a manuscript ( as I do) you have an opportunity to carefully consider the language you use. I make a habit of reading my sermon out loud which leads me to realize that certain phrases do not convey the idea clearly. A well-written sermon does not necessarily mean a well-delivered sermon. Reading my sermons out loud causes me to re-write and look for other ways to explain a concept or application more clearly.

Question #2: Is there a need to use high theological language in this sermon? Seminary graduates are often tempted to use the best of their training in the wrong environment. People are not listening to you to hear your theological acumen. I am well aware that some in the congregation would be entirely comfortable with words like perichoresis and Arianism. I am not opposed to using high theological discourse. Words like atonement, justification, sanctification are biblical and need to be defined. But extra-biblical terms and ideologies should be employed sparingly. Much of this can be dealt in a Sunday School class or other environments. High theological language needs to be used with great care, and I think it needs to be avoided as much as possible in the Sunday sermon.

Question #3: Can I make this sermon even shorter? As I read my sermons each week, I find that I can cut a paragraph or two easily, or depending on how long you preach, perhaps an entire page. This is an important lesson for new preachers: not everything needs to be said. Shorter sermons–which I strongly advocatea–force you to say what’s important and keep some of your research in the footnotes where it belongs. Preachers need to learn what to prioritize in a sermon so as not to unload unnecessary information on their parishioners.

While in seminary, I once heard a Presbyterian pastor preach the equivalent of three sermons in 55 minutes. I remember thinking, “If he finished now it will be a great sermon.” 40 minutes went by, and I thought, “If he finished his sermon now it will be all right.” After almost an hour I turned to my wife and said, “I pity his congregation.” Mistakes happen. Preachers lose track of time and people are generally very forgiving. But when this is a frequent occurrence it becomes a detriment. Preachers may turn into apologists for the Puritan era when they preached two-hour sermons. My response to this is very simple: “You are no John Owen!”

Question #4: Will my people hear a message about a great God or a convenient God? Sermons that do not lead people to serve God more faithfully have not fulfilled their purpose. The sermon needs to urge people to live more like their Lord and God. They can contemplate God, study or learn more about God (these are important), but if they leave uncertain as to how to serve their God more faithfully, the sermon has not pierced deeply enough. God’s people need to be consecrated by the Word of the Lord, pierced by the sword of the Spirit into action. Communicating only details about God can leave parishioners with a convenient God that demands knowledge but no sacrifice.

Question #5: What can I teach that will increase my people’s knowledge of the Bible? Every preacher must know: your people will remember between 1-5% of your preaching ministry throughout their lives. There is no statistic about this, the evidence is borne by daily experience. Exegesis of a verse in Hebrews will be forgotten perhaps before the sermon is over, but hermeneutical principles will remain if they are communicated succinctly. One common interpretational phrase I have used in many of my sermons is, “The Holy Spirit does not waste his breath.” This phraseb communicates that every detail of the text matters. I want my people to know in every sermon that every word in the Bible is meaningful and put in there for a reason. Many other principles will encourage God’s people to love their Bibles and learn more about it in their own studies and meditations. They may not remember my careful exegesis, but they will remember that the text is to be cherished.

Question #6: Do people follow me from point A to point B and C? I have heard my share of disconnected sermons over the years. Sermons need to have a message that is connected throughout. Themes and illustrations need to be connected to the central message. If illustrations have no purpose in the development of a sermon or if they are only used to get a laugh, people will inevitably leave confused and uncertain of the illustration’s purpose. Preachers need to be very aware of how point A connects to point B. Paragraphs need to smoothly transition, otherwise, you are beginning a new sermon altogether, and people are left wondering what the main point is. This is why manuscript preparation can help with transitional statements. On my last sermon, I repeated this phrase several times, “The future belongs to the child.” In fact, I generally title my sermons after my main point.

Question #7: Is this sermon going to connect to particular concerns of my people? I firmly believe that sermons need to connect in some way to everyone, from the young convert to the university professor. The more you preach, the more you begin to see people in your congregation with unique needs. When a pastor says “I have no one in mind when I preach,” he is likely ineffective in his preaching. Pastors are shaped by their conversations, counseling, and context. People I pray with and meet each week come to mind when I make applications. Of course, we need to be careful not to use the pulpit to deliver a privatized homily. A sermon on divorce the week after a congregant was divorced is unwise. Preachers need to consider the need of his own flock. For instance, “Does my congregation have a tendency to pride in their intellect or status?” A preacher is always preaching locally, though he can minister broadly. New Christians need to see their pastor’s words as applicable and rich to their own unique situation and this requires a good dose of wisdom and knowledge of particular needs in the congregation. Pastoral application becomes richer when there are pastoral encounters and engagement with the people. It is important to note also that we have our failures and shortcomings, but these should not keep us from addressing them corporately.c

Question #8: Is my argument persuasive? The sermon ought to leave the listener convinced that the Bible’s claim is right and true. Arguments can be phrased differently in every sermon. Some arguments will be demonstrably more persuasive than others. The preacher’s role is to give enough context and substance, so the main point becomes attractive. Persuasion is a difficult skill and needs to be considered again and again, which is why sermons need to be revised several times before they are delivered. One common problem is pastors trying to persuade people to death. Sermons are not commentaries. A preacher does not need to make his congregation turn to several Bible passages. A sermon is not an informal Bible study. Make your point. Make it desirable and succinct and move on.

Question #9: Where is the Gospel? A Gospel-less sermon is no sermon at all. Ask yourself, “Where is the Gospel?” Will my people be saved from their sins and misery after hearing this word? Will they find hope in Messiah Jesus? Will the broken-hearted see Jesus with greater joy? Will the single mom find refuge in Jesus and his Kingdom? Preachers cannot end a sermon in the desert. The Gospel is promised land. The sermonic journey takes the parishioner from darkness to light; death to resurrection.

Question #10: Is my application too general? Jesus says, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added unto you.” My closing question is a question about how my applications speak to my congregation. There are a thousand ways to speak the truth, but not many ways to speak the truth in love. Application is truth in love. Love your congregation by applying specifically and carefully. It is one thing to say Trust God, it is another to say, Believe his promises in the middle of your cancer. Generalities sometimes are inescapable, but try to escape them as much as possible when applying the Word. If there is one part of the sermon that deserves great concentration, it is in the application of the Word to God’s people. Pastors should read good counseling books. Pastors should know their people well in order to apply God’s truth in love (see #7).

You may consider each question every Sunday, and after some time these questions will be a natural part of your sermon preparation each week. Not all sermons are created equal. Just delivering content is not the goal of preaching. Preaching is an art, and we can all learn to grow.

  1. By this I mean sermons no longer than 30 minutes  (back)
  2. I think first used by James B. Jordan  (back)
  3. I hope to address pastoral fears in another post  (back)

An Hour and a Half Invitation to Believe the Gospel

Note: Here is a healthy summary of Covenant Renewal Worship and its evangelistic nature from beginning to end. The piece is written by my Associate Pastor, Al Stout. 

Guest Post by Al Stout

If you were to ask me, “Does your Church give an invitation each Sunday?” I would tell you, “Yes it does and it lasts about an hour and a half.”

For the uninitiated, an “invitation” is the portion of a service reserved for an appeal all those gathered to believe the Gospel, repent of their sins and trust Christ. It is typically given at the end of the service and may involve musical accompaniment; perhaps everyone will sing a hymn like Just As I Am as they invite you “come to Jesus”:

 Just as I am, without one plea, But that thy blood was she’d for me, And that Thou bidd’st me come to Thee, O Lamb of God, I come, I come!

While some Churches keep the invitation open for a very long time (there are 6 verses to Just As I Am and it can be sung veeeerrrry slowly) you’ve probably never heard of one lasting for an hour and a half. So, what do I mean?

Bread and Wine

Like many Churches, Providence Church in Pensacola, FL is purposeful in its worship. The elements of each service are in there for a reason. Where we put things in a worship service is equally important. For example, the confession of sin occurs at the beginning of the worship service so that we can worship God with clean hands and hearts. We end each service with a commissioning to go out and make disciples, this is the last command of our Savior while he was physically with us. There are other elements and reasons for each, but you get the idea.

Part of this arrangement is to ensure that everyone hears the Gospel appeal, the invitation if you will, every single Lord’s Day. Not attached to something that is not the Gospel, but so that the whole service is the Gospel in a picture. The gathered Saints need to hear it, those who are outside the covenant need to hear it, God WANTS to hear it and the Church has historically put this message front and center in its worship.

Here is our basic worship outline:

  • We have a formal call to worship. We are ushered, at God’s command, into his presence.
  • We immediately confess our sins to him. This is what people do repeatedly in Scripture; they see God and fall down in repentance. Our confession of sin is not held to the end of the service.
  • God picks us up and tells us we are forgiven. He does not leave us in the dust of death, but lifts us up to life. Singing begins. Joyful, robust, God honoring singing.
  • He then begins to train us in righteousness. His word is like a sharp knife in the hand of the High Priest as he begins to cut us so that we can be a fit sacrifice of praise. Here we have reading, preaching and more singing of the Word of God and Hymns of instruction. We confess the Nicene Creed together so that we might be on guard against heresy and false teaching even in the middle of our worship.
  • We offer up prayers for the people, our city, the state and country. We ask God to bless his Churches around our area and to give great success to the Gospel of Jesus Christ around the world.
  • We give back to God in our tithes and offerings after hearing the word of God preached. It is the response of a grateful people.
  •  The forgiven, sanctified (by word and prayer) people of God are then invited to sit at the table of the Lord and to fellowship with him. He is reminded of his covenant with us; that his Son’s body was broke and his blood shed. He remembers and is pleased to call us his friends. This is a joyful time of remembrance for the Church. We are not remorseful or introspective as we look at Christ’s finished work. We are thankful!
  •  More singing.
  • The last thing that happens, is that God blesses us and sends us out to make disciples of all men. His name is placed on us one more time and we go out as ambassadors of the one who died and rose again, teaching everyone to observe all his commandments.
  • We go out singing.

This is a pattern of worship frequently called Covenant Renewal and if you are interested in learning more about that let me recommend The Lord’s Service, by Jeffery Meyers.

As you look at the above doesn’t it look like the Gospel appeal? You can use this in evangelism as a simple way to remember what God requires:

  • God is calling all men everywhere to worship him. Friend, you should heed the call of God.
  • We don’t want to worship him because of our sin, so the first thing we must do is repent.  Here is what that means…
  • When we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us. He does not just pass over them as if they never happened.  Jesus Christ died for them and God raised him from the dead to live forever and he loves you.
  • When you believe that you should follow Jesus and learn from him. He will teach you his word and change you to love the things he loves.
  • He promises never to leave you and will enjoy your company forever. He promises to send the Holy Spirit to be with you.
  • Now go out and tell others about him.

Get that pattern down and you don’t have to learn a script.  You can pick it up in the middle, or camp out on the idea that God calls everyone to worship him, whatever the circumstances suggest or require.

We have an evangelical message every Lord’s day.  If you come to worship with us long enough, you will know this message very well. It will be in your bones and when that happens, getting it out and into the world will become much easier.

So, if you attend Providence be prepared to hear an invitation to confession, faith and communion with God every single Lord’s Day and expect it to last awhile.

Proportionality in Worship as Model for Life

Proportionality in Worship as Model for Life

Christian worship offers us a sense of proportionality. Perhaps in your Christian walk you may have asked, “How much time should I give to confession, how much time to rejoicing, how much time to meditating on my sins, how much time to meditating on the victory of Jesus over my sin? Questions like these demonstrate that we long to orchestrate life in a faithful way, so that we do not over-stress one element over the other. We don’t want to over-do one area, while neglecting the other.

This is why Covenant Renewal Worship is helpful. It gives us a sense of proportion. While certain worship paradigms provide for us a wholly sin-confession oriented service, the pattern of the Bible indicates that worship and life need to be carefully structured.  If you spend too much time focusing on your sins, you will neglect the resurrection’s message of forgiveness from your sins. On the other hand, you may become too triumphalistic, therefore neglecting the importance of repentance and confession of sins.

In worship there is time for confession proper; that is, a set-aside time to kneel and repent of your sins corporately and individually. This is done so that we may cleanse our hearts and minds before God anoints us with Word and Sacrament. That is confession proper; formal confession of sins.

Children know this well in their day to day affair. They need to be cleansed before they can enjoy a meal. But if they spend most of their time cleansing themselves, or if they spend the same amount of time cleansing than they do enjoying or learning, we would say that this is a disproportionate use of their time. Washing oneself is crucial and cannot be absent, but we wash so we may learn and live life with joy.

Does that mean then that I can no longer confess my sins throughout the service? Absolutely not. If something hits you with great force during a sermon, confess then. But what you must understand is that after our confession of sins corporately, we move into a time of corporate celebration. It is a time when God builds us up through His divine Word and the elements of bread and wine. And this takes considerably more time in our worship than confession. This is the case because the celebration of Messiah’s victory over death has a more prominent role in the worship of God.

We can say then, that while Christ has called us to confess our sins for a short time, we ought not to dwell there for most of the time. We are living under the empty tomb era of human history. We ought not to be triumphalistic, but we are to be triumphant Christians knowing that our Lord has conquered death and hell, and has established a people and a kingdom where righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit are abundant.

So, on this day, confess well, but then rejoice greatly for the God of our salvation calls us into this presence.

 

On Corporate Worship

On Corporate Worship

I was asked recently to provide a simple look at worship and applications to making worship a more worthy endeavor in the Christian life.

My assigned area is worship. My specific focus is corporate worship.

So, what is significant about corporate worship? First, a definition: “Corporate worship is the formal gathering of the people of God on the Lord’s Day where God gives gifts to his children and his children respond in praise.” Corporate worship is to be distinguished from private worship and informal gatherings of the saints throughout the week. The Bible assigns a specific day called the Lord’s Day as a day when the people of God come together and offer themselves to God in truth by the Spirit and where God comes and gives of Himself to His people in Word and Sacrament.

Hebrews picks up this theme and says that we are not to forsake this gathering, because forsaking this gathering may lead to destruction. It may lead to the worship of false things.  Ambrose Bierce, in his class, The Unabridged Devil’s Dictionary, says that a heathen is “a benighted creature who has the folly to worship something he can see and feel.”  Essentially, a pagan worships that which can be created.The Christian worships the one who is a consuming fire, whom the Bible refers as Holy, Holy, Holy, Father, Son, and Spirit.

Why is it important? It’s important because corporate worship is the most power Biblical method used by a Christian to wage war against the world. When we gather, there is a general biblical consensus in the Bible, that what we are doing is changing the world. The first response of the Christian in crisis is to worship. This is what we were created to do first and primarily. We are worshipping beings (homo adoranis).

Finally, what practical steps can we take to steward this area of corporate Christian worship?

First, we can begin to train ourselves and our families to practice worship throughout the week. By practicing worship throughout the week in Scripture reading, prayer, and singing, we will be more equipped to worship corporately on Sunday.

Second, instead of passive creatures on Sundays, instead of merely watching or listening to worship like a passive individual, we are called to participate wholeheartedly in the task of worship. In whatever tradition we may be a part of, we are called to joyfully engage in what is happening in worship. Sing with joy. Pray with fervor. Love one another as you have been called to love.

Finally, and most importantly, be present. As Randy Booth once said, “The decision as to whether I will be in Church on Sunday is a decision made once in a lifetime, not every Saturday night.” Corporate worship is a requirement whether you are on vacation or a home.

When you worship God together as a people, you can begin to see why our forefathers sang so passionately, “ I rejoiced when they said unto me, let us go into the house of the Lord.”

 

Children and Worship: Fit and Qualified

Children and Worship: Fit and Qualified

Children in worship is an important theme in sacred scriptures. Children are an assumed part of the covenant worship of God.  a Their absence in worship would be a form of re-building the walls of partition. The wall erected to keep people out was torn down to bring people in. The absence of children in worship service revives the old cursed wall (Gal. 3:28).

The Christian faith has always been genealogical. It has always been about blood. Both major testaments function with this hermeneutical principle. But there is a fine qualification to keep in mind. This genealogy traces back to the first church formed in the Garden of Eden. The Church, which began in seed form, and which became pentecostalized b in Acts two, is a true family. Her blood is divine. Jesus bled for her and the Spirit bled drops of fire into that Church, and from that blood formed one holy, catholic, and apostolic body. This newly formed community comes together as one when she worships. She ceases to be a collection of families, but one family. She receives a new identity.

Children enter into this body through the same door that everyone else enters through: baptism. In baptism, children receive the ritualized mark of the Spirit. The Spirit bleeds red drops of fire on her head and empowers the infant to grow in grace and truth. The child is then educated in the ethics of Yahweh (Deut. 6). He shares the same heritage (Ps. 127-128) and the same blood (Acts 2). He becomes a qualified member of this new creation. He does not wait to be qualified, but becomes qualified through fire. Pentecost, then, is the coming together of water and fire.

Children become a necessary furniture piece in the new house of God. She is a little temple joined with many temples forming one holy temple wherein the Spirit dwells. She becomes a warrior; a warrior who depends heavily on more experienced warriors, but a warrior nevertheless. She is ready to follow in the train of the apostles without ever being able to utter her first word. God, the Spirit, gives her speech. God makes the dumb to speak, and He makes babes to cry out (Ps. 8). God’s noble army of men and boys, matron and maid is not composed of polished servants, but of servants that are being polished by the grace of the gospel in the community of faith.

Why children in worship? Because little pebbles become great stones. Because little seeds become great trees. Because little voices still frighten the enemies of God. God is perfectly capable of translating any language in the world. But when he translates the language of nursing infants into praise, He says, “this is very good.”

  1. One might even say assumed furniture in the household structure  (back)
  2. Spirit-sealed  (back)
Delighting in the Mundane

Delighting in the Mundane

It’s Saturday! In our household that means a little more sleep. We treasure those 30 minutes. In college, time was on our side. Naps were luxuries we took for granted. Now here we are: ten years have passed and three children later (one more on the way). Time matters a whole lot! The children are consistent early-risers. They are punctual little creatures. They love time. They love it so much that even without an alarm clock they detect that 6AM is coming. I am not fully awake, but I can hear them coming. Sometimes they come silently. Sometimes they come like hungry warriors. But they come…consistently. My lovely wife makes the first move. She is more courageous than I am that early. She does it without flinching. “What a mom,”  I utter as I zombie my way back to sleep. Breakfast is ready. Children are fed. Sometimes the beach is a fine option. But the evening is reserved; an early Sabbath.

We begin our preparation for worship. Sunday mornings with three little ones can be a challenge. We try to go to bed relatively early. We usually make no Saturday appointments. Saturday evening is sacred in that we prepare ourselves for the sacred gathering. It is almost a ritual for us. Ironing and showers are constant activities. If we are hosting, it demands extra effort from our team. My oldest child unloads the dishwasher. My second child wants to do everything my oldest child does, which can be both entertaining and frightening to watch. My third child laughs, tumbles, and laughs some more. Preparation is key. And we begin the preparation early. Sunday morning arrives.

The man of the house is also the pastor of the Church. He begins to prepare himself psychologically for the events of the day. Sermon notes run through his mind; mental editing begins and really never stops until he begins preaching. He begins to hum through the psalms and hymns. Sunday mornings are created equal. It is always hard work. “Is the beer in the fridge for the guests?” “Are the floors clean?” “Are the plates set?” “We need to leave in the next ten minutes!” The excitement builds. We love Church. We prepare for it. But with little children nothing is easy. Mommy prepares herself. She makes sure that her war tools are ready: Diapers: check. Milk: check. Snacks: check. “I think we are ready!” She has her army under control. “Where are my clerical collars?” I ask. I have so many of them, but they never seem to be in the same place they were seven days ago. It’s naive of me to think they will be. But that is my liturgical pattern every Sunday.

It would be lovely to be a wizard. “A wizard is never late, nor is he early, he arrives precisely when he means to.” a But that’s not how it works for pastors and their families. “Children, what day is today?” “The Lord’s Day!” “What do we do today?” “We worship God and sing His praises.” Yes, we do all these things, but it’s been a long journey until that moment. We died in one hundred different ways during the week, so we can be brought to life on the day of Resurrection. “Live the liturgy,” says the preacher. We are trying. It’s extremely challenging. It’s really very sanctifying. It’s holy work. Yes, it is.

  1. Tolkien  (back)
Reformation Myths, Part IV

Reformation Myths, Part IV

The final myth is that when the Reformers broke from Rome, they broke free from liturgical worship. True Protestant worship is spontaneous and unconstrained by liturgical forms. “Who needs a bulletin? Let’s just follow the Spirit.” This is the general belief of most evangelicals in America– that breaking from Rome is breaking from liturgy. Of course, everyone has a liturgy; some are thought through, others are not. And because of this supposed idea of how a Reformed Church should be, many Protestants have ended up with spontaneous and entertainment-driven worship. But here is the irony of all of this: before the Reformation, the people would gather to be entertained by the Roman Church. Now they were not entertained by skits and praise bands as many do today, rather they were entertained by seeing the priest do his magic. In those days, the priest would take the bread and wine and magically it would be turned into the substance of Christ’s body. But when the magic was done the people themselves did not take the bread and wine; only the priest took the bread and wine. The people just sat there and listened to the priest talk in a language that they did not know. It was a sort of passive entertainment. Do you know how the Reformers reacted to this magical trickery and this passive entertainment offered to the people? The Reformers said: “Enough of this!” “The Reformers rediscovered the biblical truth that the whole congregation is a priesthood called to offer up spiritual sacrifice before God.a

The Reformers insisted that the people together with the minister do the work of worship; that people instead of sitting down passively and watching the trained musicians or the priest do his trick were now going to become themselves living sacrifices unto God. So, instead of only the trained musicians in the choir singing, the Reformers began to take the laity, the common people, and trained them to sing. Luther, of course, was a much better trained musician than most of the Reformers, so he began to compose beautiful music. He began to train the congregation to sing robustly, not like monks, but like warriors. And Calvin, who was not musically gifted, hired a musician to put the psalms into music b. So, you see what is happening is that the  passive nature of the people in worship, where only the professionals sing–that is in fact still prevalent in our own day– has much more in common with Roman Catholicism than it does with Protestantism. The Reformers wanted the congregation involved in the liturgy: in the singing, confessing, and every other part of worship. Therefore, the Reformers did not abandon the liturgy, they corrected the liturgy of Rome. Instead of only priests and trained singers involved in the church, while the people remain silenced, the Reformers involved the entire congregation in sacred worship.

Many of you who have probably visited a Roman Catholic Church may say, “The modern Roman Catholic church is not like the Catholic Church of the 16th century.” The modern day Catholic church has services in English and the people sing and the people take the bread and wine every Sunday. Do you know why this is the case? Because many years after the Protestant Reformation, the Roman Catholics realized that the Reformers were taking over the world and that they were losing the game and so they concluded: “We need to imitate the Protestants.”

It is not uncommon to have someone visit the congregation I pastor in Pensacola and say that our liturgy looks Catholic. But this means that they have bought into a myth. It is not that our liturgy looks Catholic, it is rather that anything that the Catholic Church does that appears in any way similar to what we do at our Church was learned from the Protestant Reformers, not the other way around. Do you think the modern day Protestant understands the Reformation? I would like to think they do. But every time you hear these myths stated remember what really happened. Remember and remind non-Reformed people that the Reformers loved the unity of the Church, they believed strongly that the people should read their Bibles in the context of the church, that the Reformers believed in predestination because the Bible taught predestination, and that the Reformers, not Rome, restored worship to the people.

Why do we celebrate the Reformation? Because the Reformers believed that the ancient paths of Moses and Paul were good paths and that we should walk in them and find rest for our souls.

  1. Thanks to Rich Lusk for some of these insights and quotes  (back)
  2. called the Genevan Psalter  (back)