worship

The Ascension of our Lord: A Brief Introduction

The Church celebrates the Ascension of our Lord this Thursday. Since most churches are not able to have Thursday services, traditionally many of them celebrate Ascension on Sunday.

The Ascension of Jesus is barely mentioned in the evangelical vocabulary. We make room for his birth, death, and resurrection, but we tend to put a period where God puts a comma.

If the resurrection was the beginning of Jesus’ enthronement, then the ascension is the establishment of his enthronement. The Ascension activates Christ’s victory in history. The Great Commission is only relevant because of the Ascension. Without the Ascension the call to baptize and disciple would be meaningless. It is on the basis of Jesus’ enthronement at the right-hand of the Father, that we image-bearers can de-throne rulers through the power and authority of our Great Ruler, Jesus Christ.

The Ascension then is a joyful event, because it is the genesis of the Church’s triumph over the world. Further, it defines us as a people of glory and power, not of weakness and shame. As Jesus is ascended, we too enter into his ascension glory (Col. 3:1) This glory exhorts us to embrace full joy. As Alexander Schmemann once wrote:

“The Church was victorious over the world through joy…and she will lose the world when she loses its joy… Of all accusations against Christians, the most terrible one was uttered by Nietzsche when he said that Christians had no joy.”[1]

But this joy is given to us by a bodily Lord.

We know that Jesus is at the right hand of the Father. He is ruling and reigning from his heavenly throne. He has given the Father the kingdom, and now he is preserving, progressing, and perfecting his kingdom. He is bringing all things under subjection.

We know that when he was raised from the dead, Jesus was raised bodily. But Gnostic thinking would have us assume that since Jesus is in heaven he longer needs a physical body. But the same Father who raised Jesus physically, also has his Son sitting beside him in a physical body.  As one author observed:

Jesus has gone before us in a way we may follow through the Holy Spirit whom he has sent, because the way is in his flesh, in his humanity.[1]

Our Lord is in his incarnation body at the right hand of the Father. This has all sorts of implications for us in worship. We are worshipping a God/Man; one who descended in human flesh and who ascended in human flesh. He is not a disembodied spirit. He is truly God and truly man.

As we consider and celebrate the Ascension of our blessed Lord, remember that you are worshiping the One who understands your needs, because he has a body just like you; he understands your joy because he has a body just like you.

[1] Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World. Paraphrased

[2] Gerrit Dawson, see http://apologus.wordpress.com/2012/05/16/ascension-and-jesus-humanity/

Children in Worship

Two fellow pastors have contributed to this important discussion. Pastor Rob Hadding writes:

One would be hard pressed to find examples in the Bible of where parents are instructed to exclude children from worship or the feasts. In fact, there are many places where the Bible explicitly instructs the people of God on how to include them. But, and this is the root of the matter, it is not our practice in American Evangelical culture to look to the Bible to see how we ought to be doing things. Rather, we look to the culture, asking the world for its wisdom. Where is our biblical theology of children? Where is our biblical theology of family? Where is our biblical theology of worship?

Pastor Toby Sumpter also touches on this in his piece, and concludes:

All I mean is that God designed worship to include other people and especially other little people, children. Real worship includes those people next to us, in the row behind us, and in front of us. It’s certainly true that without discipline or teaching, they can become distractions, but the fact that they are there, needing attention, smiling, waving, drawing pictures, and doing their own best to worship is glorious and nothing to be regretted or despised. And you, parents, if you are holding their hands and lifting your hearts to the Lord, then your worship is accepted. You are received, loved, rejoiced over by your Father in Heaven. You are worshiping, really worshiping.

It is time that we restore our little children to worship! They have been exiled long enough!

{For a more extended article on this topic, see Pastor Randy Booth’s Little Children and the Worship of God}

On the Role of Worship

Toby Sumpter elaborates on the purpose of worship:

You see, this is actually the first work of the Kingdom here. This is where we lay our ambush; this is where we perform the great air war. This is where we drop our nukes on sin, death, and the devil. Before you fight the battle against anger tonight, before you fight the battle against lust tomorrow, before you fight the battle against laziness on Wednesday, before you fight the battle against lying on Friday, you begin here by asking God to wield His sword on your heart and mind through His Word. You begin here by singing your war songs, believing that God marches before you slaying your enemies, making your path secure. You begin here casting your cares upon the Lord asking Him to move mountains, asking Him to heal the sick, asking Him to remove tyrants, asking Him to raise up the humble and meek. You begin here by feasting at the Lord’s Table, eating and drinking the victory of the Lamb who was slain.

Abraham was promised Canaan, and the He went through the land building altars and calling on the Name of the Lord, and hundreds of years later, Joshua led choirs and trumpets to circle Jericho until the walls came tumbling down. We don’t fight with fists or swords or bombs. We fight by the power of the Spirit. We fight with the Word of God, and we wield the wrecking ball of the Spirit until the walls of unbelief and tyranny and slavery fall down. We fight now. We wage war now.

Heavenly Fellowship and the Pursuit of Life, Liberty, and Happiness

This is a great day for these United States. It is a time of joy and celebration. And we hope to bathe ourselves with one of America’s greatest inventions: hot dogs. But beyond all the fireworks, parades, and the good and healthy national festivities, we will also remember that in 1776, the Declaration of Independence was approved by the Continental Congress, setting the 13 colonies on the road to freedom as a sovereign nation. Sovereignty is good. It is right. And I believe there was much wisdom in that threefold pursuit of Life, Liberty and Happiness. Undoubtedly we have not followed those principles too well in this nation. We have despised life by disposing of unborn infants, we have forgotten that God has set us free from ourselves and from the tyranny of sin, and we have also forsaken the liberty given to any nation whose God is the Lord. Therefore, we receive the just punishment we deserve, and that means the majority of our politicians and their policies. Washington has become a place of secret handshakes, unwarranted transactions, political elitism, sophist rhetoric, and cowardice. And finally, the happiness that we should certainly pursue is largely devoid of any form of Trinitarian rationale. Happiness–which is the pursuit of righteousness– without Nature’s God is temporary and unsatisfying.

We are first and foremost heavenly citizens. Our fellowship is heavenly. Our pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness are not granted by this nation, but by a heavenly nation that this country has largely ignored. But this should not be the case. We are not pessimists. We know that even in the darkest moment of this country’s history, God is still on the throne, and He did not hit the pause button on his kingdom advance.

People of God, be good citizens of this nation. Sing Psalms so loudly that the enemies will think there is an army of giants coming at them. Speak truth so firmly that Washington will be unable to shut her ears. Stand strong that nothing will deter you from marching on. Love so convincingly that godly marriage would be honored. Obey the Lord your God, petition his mercy that God would spare us as He did Nineveh.

True patriotism rejoices when our country does right, and weeps when she chases after false gods.

Let us come together this coming Lord’s Day through the holy act of worship, and purify the Bride of Christ with confession and rejoicing, for in this manner this nation will find life, liberty, and true happiness.

Training Little Ones Through New Eyes…

This is a topic dear to me. I have one daughter and another child on the way. My theological community places a great emphasis on children and their participation in the community. We do not place them in a special category, they are already–by virtue of God’s grace (Psalm 22:9) and by being born in a Christian home (I Corinthians 7:14)–in the only category that exists in the church, the righteous ones. In the assembly there is wisdom to be imparted and the mysteries of the gospel are revealed each week as we eat and drink and commune with one another and our children.

In light of this, our children need to treated with a new perspective; they need to be viewed with new eyes. Biblically, the gathering community is elevated to the heavens to the presence of her Lord when they meet together (Eph. 2:6). Christ summons us–by His Spirit– into His presence so we may feast with Him at His table and in the Holy of Holies. Worship is heavenly and our children need to be trained from the earliest days to see worship as heavenly. They need to be active participants in this heavenly worship. They need to see models of this at home, so they may partake of this joy at church.

Training little ones is no easy task. It requires a theological commitment that is a minority view in our own day. It is looked down upon in most evangelical churches (and sadly, in most reformed churches). Circumstances dictate much of our practices, yet, no circumstance should take away the necessity of training little ones in the home. This can be done in several ways. There are three common practices in our household that embody what I have been arguing. These are significant and necessary features, but by no means essential in every detail.

First, prayer needs to be modeled at home. Every meal is prefaced with: “Child (name), let us pray to God and give thanks to Him.” Children must understand that the life of faith is a life of thankfulness. God in His rich mercy poured out all blessings on us. He has given us His Spirit and His Son for our benefit and for our salvation. Children who are catechized in this context of thankfulness grow up to be appreciative of all God’s good gifts.

Second, singing needs to be central as the background of any covenant home. I am not speaking of random music or even music that purports to be Christian; rather, I am speaking of music that is uplifting, whether dance-like or meditative music. Classical music is to be preferred above many styles, but it should not be the sole choice of the Christian home. Children need to be exposed to a diversity of music. In my opinion, the best music for covenant children available is the music of Jamies Soles. This is Christian music that is not afraid of the hard or the obscure passages. Jamie’s music actually reflects the words of Paul that all Scripture is given for our instruction, and we may add, our singing.

Finally, family worship is indispensable. Whether five or ten minutes a day, every family needs to do it. If it is unattractive at first, keep pressing on. Family worship, like church worship, is a maturing process. No congregation sings Psalm 45 (in the Cantus Christi) successfully the first time. In our congregation, it took at least three tries before we mastered this divine psalm. In the same manner, worship is hard. Parents can seek many models available. In our home, we follow the similar pattern of Sunday morning worship. In fact, we keep our Sunday bulletins and use them throughout the week (see an example here). We begin with a salutation (Daddy: Jesus Christ is Risen! Mommy and Children: Jesus Christ is Risen Indeed!) and then kneel for confession (see an example of a confession in the bulletin). We all rise after kneeling and hear a word of assurance from God’s word that our sins are forgiven in Jesus’ name (see Romans 5:1). Typically that is followed by a reading from the Scriptures. The passage will most likely be the text for the coming Sunday sermon (our bulletin provides the reading for the following week). The reading is followed by a hearty, “This is the Word of the Lord! Thanks be to God!” Then, I choose a hymn or a psalm (one advantage of the Cantus Christi is that it includes about 100 of the 150 psalms). Usually–as the father–I will lead our family in a prayer for our needs and the needs of others. We always begin by exalting God for Who He is and what He has done. At this point, my 18 month-old knows that when daddy says amen it is time for the doxology. We raise our hands together as a sign of adoration and conclude with praise to the Father, Son, and Spirit. All this takes approximately 5-7 minutes. It is not overwhelming, but incredibly rich in substance.

You begin to train your little ones with new eyes; the eyes of faith that sees that their worship is pure worship before the Father of all glory.