Thursday, January 31, 2008

Trying Too Hard to Be Cool

Carl Trueman (a professor at Westminster Seminary in Philadephia) has written a good (and funny) essay with a warning for pastors who try too hard to be 'hip'.... Here's just an excerpt:

"...the gospel just is not cool. I don’t think I need to argue this one further, but just in case: Steve McQueen was cool; Bruce Springsteen, if the new album is anything to go by, is still cool; but being a helpless lawbreaker dependent solely upon God’s grace in Christ for salvation has never been cool and never will be. And if the gospel is not cool, then being a minister is not cool; so why try to pretend otherwise?

"This brings me to my main point: priorities. The priority of the minister is not to be hip or cool. It is not even to `connect with the kids.’ It is to immerse himself in the word, to know the gospel inside out, and to communicate that gospel with care, clarity, love, and force."

The Ministry of the Holy Spirit

"In relation to the individual Christian...the Spirit's ministry is fivefold:
-- He enlightens, giving understanding of the gospel, so that "the spiritual man" has "the mind of Christ" (1 Cor.2:14-16; 2 Cor.3:14-17).
-- He indwells, as the seal and guarantee that henceforth the Christian belongs to God (Rom.8:9-11; 1 Cor. 3:16-17; 6:19).
-- He transforms, producing in the believer the ethical fruit of Christlikeness (2 Cor. 3:18; Gal.5:22-24): love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, and...prayerfulness and hope (Rom.8:26-27; 15:13).
-- He assures, witnessing to the believer's adoption by God, to his or her eternal acceptance and future inhertance (Rom.8:15-25, 31-39, which is a transript of the Spirit's witness; Gal.4:6).
-- And he equips the believer for service among God's people and in the world (Acts 1:8; 1 Cor. 12:1-31)."

-- David Wells, "God the Evangelist" p.34 (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1987)

Series on Worship, pt.7

7 The body of Christ is far bigger than what we see in the gathered community—and our songs should reflect this.

There is only one church—"one holy, catholic, and apostolic." When my local assembly gathers for worship, we join ourselves with "the communion of saints" (Apostles' Creed), those who have gone before us and those who will come after us, and with the millions upon millions who fill the Earth today. This reality should also be reflected in our corporate worship. This means we must move beyond the chronological snobbery that insists that "newer is better" when it comes to our songs of worship. Likewise, we must move beyond a narrow vision of a church based on nationality or ethnicity. Incorporating songs, confessions, and other liturgical resources from around the globe and from other eras is an enriching commitment. It brings us closer to the beautiful vision of worship in passages like Revelation 7:9-10, where we read of an innumerable throng of worshipers from every nation, tribe, and tongue praising God in one accord.

-- from Gary A. Parrett is assistant professor of Christian education at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Copyright © 2005 Christianity Today.

Worldly Worship

Whatever Happened to God?

"Evangelical Protestantism is in trouble today as an increasing number of business and professional people are searching for a new church. The complaint I hear most often is that people can no longer sense the sacred either in the preaching or in the liturgy. The atmosphere in most of our services is clubby and convivial rather than adoring and expectant. What is missing is the fear of God, the experience of God as the Wholly Other.

"Worship has become performance rather than praise. The praise choruses that have preempted the great hymns of the church do not hide the fact that our worship is essentially a spectacle that appeals to the senses rather than an act of obeisance to the mighty God who is both holiness and love. Contemporary worship is far more egocentric [self-centered] than theocentric [God-centered]. The aim is less to give glory to God than to satisfy the longings of the human heart. Even when we sing God's praises, the focus is on fulfilling and satisfying the human desire for wholeness and serenity.

"This motivation is not wrong in itself but becomes questionable when it takes priority. Some of the new choruses speak of 'falling in love' with Jesus. A sentimental love, not an adoring love, characterizes our relationship to God. We are urged to cultivate a feeling of love rather than to demonstrate the power of love through sacrificial service to our neighbor.....

"Perhaps as a means of avoiding the rigorous wrestling with Scripture and theology, we direct our energies to mastering skills in church management and communication. Method looms more important than content. Worship has become therapy; prayer often degenerates into magic. Religion becomes a flight from the world rather than a catalyst for renewing the world....

"We need revival today, but we also need reformation—a fundamental change in our priorities and attitudes. We must see ourselves as emissaries of the high and holy God entrusted with the gospel of reconciliation and redemption, sent into the world in order to bring the world into submission to the will of the living God...."

-- from Donald G. Bloesch, emeritus professor of theology at the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary. "Christianity Today" Feb.5, 2001

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Why Theology?

"If Scripture is indeed God himself preaching and teaching, as the great body of the church has always held, then the first mark of good theology is that it seeks to echo the divine Word as faithfully as it can.

"...theology is for doxology and devotion -- that is, the praise of God and the practice of godliness. It should therefore be presented in a way that brings awareness of the divine presence. Theology is at its healthiest when it is consciously under the eye of God of whom it speaks, and when it is singing to his glory."

-- J.I. Packer, "Concise Theology" xi-xii (Tyndale)

A Definition of the Gospel from Tim Keller

“The ‘gospel’ is the good news that through Christ the power of God’s kingdom has entered history to renew the whole world. When we believe and rely on Jesus’ work and record (rather than ours) for our relationship to God, that kingdom power comes upon us and begins to work through us.”

Tim Keller is pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City.
(the quote is from Tullian Tchividjian's blog)

Series on Worship, pt. 6

6 The body of Christ in worship is more than an assembly of individual worshipers—we need more "we" songs.

Not long ago, the practice in churches I attended was to project songs onto a screen with overhead transparencies. These were stored in some sort of file-folder system in alphabetical order, based on the first line of the song. But we had one problem: We continually needed to add more folders to accommodate songs that began with the letter ‘I.’

When I attend services that feature "contemporary" worship today, it seems that 80 percent to 90 percent of all the songs sung by the congregation prominently feature that familiar trinity of I, Me, My. Rarely do we sing songs that remind us of our identity as the body of Christ, the people of God. There are simply too few ‘we’ songs in our congregational gatherings. It seems that many songwriters have taken songs directly from their personal devotional life into the assembly, without considering the possibility of adapting the songs for congregational use. In cultures that are already dominated by narcissism, this is unwise and dangerous.

From Jesus' teaching about praying to our Father in secret, to Paul's admonition that tongues without interpretation should be kept to oneself, we are reminded that a distinction should be drawn between personal worship of God and worshiping him in the assembly of the faithful. It is not that I songs are unhelpful or unnecessary, it is simply that we are badly out of balance here, and we need a corrective. Our hymnody must play a part in this. In many cases, a song can be easily adapted for such purposes by changing a few pronouns. Better by far, however, is composing songs with a true vision of the church and rediscovering those great songs that already feature such a vision.

-- from Gary A. Parrett, assistant professor of Christian education at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Copyright © 2005 Christianity Today.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

"The Old Cross and the New" by A.W. Tozer

"All unannounced and mostly undetected there has come in modern times [this essay was written in 1946!] a new cross into popular evangelical circles. It is like the old cross, but different: the likenesses are superficial; the differences fundamental.

"From this new cross has sprung a new philosophy of the Christian life, and from that new philosophy has come a new evangelical technique – a new type of meeting and a new kind of preaching. This new evangelism employs the same language as the old, but its content is not the same and its emphasis not as before.

"The old cross would have no dealings with the world. For Adam’s proud flesh it meant the end of the journey. It carried into effect the sentence imposed by the law of Sinai. The new cross is not opposed to the human race; rather, it is a friendly pal and, if understood aright, it is the source of oceans of good clean fun and innocent enjoyment. It lets Adam live without interference. His life motivation is unchanged; he still lives for his own pleasure, only now he takes delight in singing choruses and watching religious movies instead of singing bawdy songs and drinking hard liquor. The accent is still on enjoyment, though the fun is now on a higher plane morally if not intellectually.

"The new cross encourages a new and entirely different evangelistic approach. The evangelist does not demand abnegation [renunciation] of the old life before a new life can be received. He preaches not contrasts but similarities. He seeks to key into public interest by showing that Christianity makes no unpleasant demands; rather, it offers the same thing the world does, only on a higher level. Whatever the sin-mad world happens to be clamoring after at the moment is cleverly shown to be the very thing the gospel offers, only the religious product is better.

"The new cross does not slay the sinner, it redirects him. It gears him into a cleaner and jollier way of living and saves his self-respect….. The Christian message is slanted in the direction of the current vogue in order to make it acceptable to the public.

"The philosophy back of this kind of thing may be sincere but its sincerity does not save it from being false. It is false because it is blind. It misses completely the whole meaning of the cross.
The old cross is a symbol of death. It stands for the abrupt, violent end of a human being. The man in Roman times who took up his cross and started down the road had already said good-bye to his friends. He was not coming back. He was going out to have it ended. The cross made no compromises, it modified nothing, spared nothing; it slew all of the man, completely and for good. It did not try to keep on good terms with its victim. It struck cruel and hard, and when it had finished its work, the man was no more.

"The race of Adam is under a death sentence. There is no commutation and no escape. God cannot approve any of the fruits of sin, however innocent they may appear or beautiful to the eyes of men. God salvages the individual by liquidating him and then raising him again to newness of life.

"The kind of evangelism which draws friendly parallels between the ways of God and the ways of men is false to the Bible and cruel to the souls of its hearers. The faith of Christ does not run parallel with the world, it intersects it. In coming to Christ we do no bring our old life up onto a higher plane; we leave it at the cross. The corn of wheat must fall into the ground and die.

"We who preach the gospel must not think of ourselves as public relations agents sent to establish good will between Christ and the world.. We must not imagine ourselves commissioned to make Christ acceptable to big business, the media, the world of sports or modern education. We are not diplomats, but prophets, and our message is not a compromise but an ultimatum.
God does offer life, but not an improved old life. The life he offers is life out of death. It stands always on the far side of the cross. Whoever would possess it must pass under the rod. He must repudiate himself and concur in God’s just sentence against him.

"What does this mean to the individual, the condemned man who would find life in Christ Jesus? How can this theology be translated into life? Simply, he must repent and believe. He must forsake his sins and then go on to forsake himself. Let him cover nothing, defend nothing, excuse nothing. Let him not seek to make deals with God, but let him bow his head before the stroke of God’s stern displeasure and acknowledge himself worthy to die.

"Having done this let him gaze with simple trust upon the risen Savior, and from Him will come life and rebirth and cleansing and power. The cross that totally ended the earthly life of Jesus now puts an end to the sinner; and the power that raised Christ from the dead now raises him to a new life along with Christ.

"To any who may object to this or count it merely a narrow and private view of truth, let me say God has set his hallmark of approval upon this message from Paul’s day, to the present. Whether stated in these exact words or not, this has been the content of all preaching that has brought life and power to the world through the centuries….

"….Dare we, the heirs of such a legacy of power, tamper with the truth?....May God forbid. Let us preach the old cross and we will know the old power."

-- from "The Best of A.W. Tozer" pp. 175-178 ©1978 by Baker Book Company, used by permission of Christian Publications, Harrisburg, PA

John Stott on True Worship

from his new book, "The Living Church":

"…true worship is biblical worship, that is to say, it is a response to the biblical revelation…the reading and preaching of God’s word in public worship, far from being alien intrusions into it, are rather indispensible aspects of it. It is the word of God which evokes the worship of God."

"The Living Church" by John Stott, IVP 2007, pp.35-36

A Misery-Causing Myth

One of the major myths that I encounter again and again as a pastor is when a person thinks that everbody else is doing well and has it all together and that he/she is the only one struggling -- struggling in their home life, or their work life, or with financial setbacks, or with the consequences of some bad choices, etc., etc.

But like I said -- that's a myth. It's just not how things really are. The truth is that many of us (probably most of us) on any given day are facing some pretty tough challenges -- that's how life goes on a fallen planet. So what should we do? Well, certainly we should pray, and we should seek God's wisdom and direction through his Word.

But it shouldn't stop there -- because in God's plan he also intends that we lean on one another in the body of Christ -- in the family of God, where we have brothers and sisters. We shouldn't be ashamed or embarrassed to admit our struggles and fears and even our failures -- for one thing, we all have them. We belong to one another; so if God has given me the grace and resources to do someone else some good, it's my privilege and responsibility to be a good steward of what God's given me, by using it to help others. Heaven knows how many times I've needed that kind of help from others in the family of God.

Of course it's possible for this principle to be abused, and the Bible has some direct teaching about how to respond to such abuse (e.g., 2 Thess. 3:6-10), but we can't allow the possibility that some might abuse this principle to prevent us from acting it out in the wise and gracious ways the Bible maps out for us.

So as we pray for our own needs and struggles, and the needs and struggles of others, let's not forget that many times God intends to use US in each others lives as part of the answer to those prayers. So let us learn to invite each other into one another's lives -- like family...because that's what we are.

(Jn. 13:34; Acts 2:44-45; Gal.6:2,10; 2 Cor. 8&9; Rom.12:13-16; Jas. 5:13-16; 1 John 3:16-18)

Series on Worship, pt. 5

5 Faithful response to God involves more than praise—
we need a much broader range of songs available for congregations.

The Psalter—Israel's prayer book and hymnal—provides a good model for us. In the Psalms, we find that the songs of praise take their place alongside songs and prayers of lament, confession, adoration, complaint, spiritual warfare, thanksgiving, and more.

A couple years ago, I felt compelled to compose a hymn based on Psalm 88, which is generally acknowledged as the darkest of all the psalms. It begins in confusion and ends, it seems, in utter frustration. Searching through the Scripture indices of the hymnals in my office, I could not find a single hymn based on this psalm. Yet is it not a God-inspired prayer for people of God who find themselves in a dark season of life? Do we not ask such people to stand alongside us in our congregational worship and join us in singing the triumphant songs of praise? Are we unwilling to join them in crying out to God for mercy? In our churches, sadly, it often does not go both ways—we rejoice with those who rejoice, but seldom do we weep with those who weep.

The other side of this coin, of course, is that what God has revealed about himself is not always what we would like to acknowledge. Do our songs address the full range of his attributes and actions, or only those that we delight in? We sing often of his love and kindness. But what of his wrath, his jealousy, his inscrutability—do we sing honestly of these things? Surely we should.

-- from Gary A. Parrett, assistant professor of Christian education at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Copyright © 2005 Christianity Today.

What Are We Aiming For?

One of the strangest ideas that has haunted and corrupted the evangelical Christianity that I’ve been a part of is the notion that you can be a Christian (be ‘saved’) without being fully committed to living under the Lordship of Christ. I’m not talking about actually being able to live and obey perfectly – for even as born-again believers there’s too much remaining sin inside us for that to be true. But I’m talking about acknowledging and embracing that most definitely our aim and aspiration and goal should be a life that, in Paul’s words, "pleases him in every way". (Col.1:10) Notice the word ‘every’ there. Such language echoes how Jesus defines what it means to be one of his followers/disciples (=Christian, see Acts 11:26). According to Jesus, a disciple is a person committed to obeying "everything" Jesus has commanded (Matt.28:20).

And when the apostle Paul describes the conversion of the Roman Christians, his language is just as striking: "But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. ….Now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life." (Rom.6:17ff.)

Paul calls Christians "slaves to righteousness" and "slaves to God." Slaves. I think we read over words like that too quickly, without really being struck by what they mean. A slave is someone totally submitted to the will and work of his master.

Now certainly as Christians we are more than slaves (we are sons!), but we are not less. And the fuller truth of our being sons and daughters of God doesn’t in any way diminish the idea of total submission that is involved in being slaves.

The Bible teaches us this truth – that to be a Christian means being totally submitted to God – in so many different passages and so many different ways, its fairly amazing that we could think any differently. What did Jesus say the greatest commandment is? It’s to "love the Lord our God with all our heart, and all our soul and all our mind." (Matt.22:37).

Add to this the passages that warn us away from limping along between allegiance to the Lord and devotion to other gods – gods like Pleasure, Profit, Power, Self (see 1 Kings 18:21; 1 Jn.2:15-17; Matt.6:24; Jas.4:4). And then remember that Laodicean lukewarmness makes our Lord sick (Rev.3:16).

To be honest, one of the most disheartening things that I face – and one of the most serious stumbling-blocks that I know of – are professing Christians who, in spite of their claims and their outward appearances on Sunday – just do not really seem to be committed to bringing every area of their lives under the Lordship of Christ. We may croon about commitment as we sing and sway during praise songs on Sunday morning, but do we really and truly seek to live by the Lordship of Christ, which in practical terms means living by his word in Scripture, by Sunday afternoon (let alone the rest of the week)?

Again, I’m not saying that we don’t all fall short when it comes to living out our all-encompassing allegiance to Christ, which again in practical terms means living by every word of God available to us in the Bible (Matt.4:4) – we all fall short, and we all need daily forgiveness. But what is so troubling to me is the number of professing Christians who don’t even seem to think that such all-inclusive allegiance and devotion to Christ should even be our aim and aspiration.

I honestly think there might be some awful surprises ahead for people like that (Matt. 7:21-23). I don't want to be one of those people. Instead, I want to be the kind of person who's on the path that Peter describes, someone who makes his calling and election sure by making every effort to add to faith goodness, and to goodness, knowledge, and....

"For if you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." (2 Pet.1:5ff.)

Monday, January 28, 2008

Billy Graham on Repentance

"When the Bible calls upon us to repent of sin, it means that we should turn away from sin, that we should do an about-face and walk in the opposite direction from sin and all that it implies….

"….True repentance means ‘to change, to turn away from, to go in a new direction.’ To be sorry is not enough in repentance….

"….repentance cannot take place unless first there is a movement of the Holy Spirit in the heart and mind…."

"….There must be a determination to forsake sin – to change one’s attitudes toward self, toward sin, and God; to change one’s feelings; to change one’s will, disposition and purpose....

"There is not one verse of Scripture that indicates you can be a Christian and live any kind of a life you want to. When Christ enters into the human heart, He demands that He be Lord and Master. He demands complete surrender….

"…He must have first place in everything you do or think or say, for when you truly repent you turn toward God in everything."

-- from "Peace with God" copyright 1984 (Word)

Good news from Cornerstone University

Dr. Joseph M. Stowell has been chosen as the new president of Cornerstone University (and Grand Rapids Theological Seminary).

Series on Worship, pt. 4

4. Those who lead the congregation in song must be
theologically equipped for this important task.

Many in our churches have their theology formed principally by our hymnody [that is, by the songs that we sing]. When we recognize young men and women in our congregations as gifted in the areas of musical composition, performance, or leading, we should encourage them to pursue theological training and support them to do so. This may mean sending them off to seminary, Bible college, or some other venue.

Others, for whom such training seems inaccessible, should be mentored by those in the congregation who are more biblically literate and mature. Pastors must not relinquish "worship leading" to a theologically unequipped person simply because that one is musically gifted. Song selection and composition can be conducted in partnership with those who are, or ought to be, teachers in the flock.

--from Gary A. Parrett, assistant professor of Christian education at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.
Copyright © 2005 Christianity Today.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Series on Worship, pt. 3

from Gary A. Parrett...

3 Worship involves a rhythm of revelation and response: God graciously reveals himself to us, and we faithfully respond — all the elements [of a worship service] must help worshipers participate in this rhythm.

God initiates the worship experience by graciously revealing something of himself—his character, his mighty deeds, his will for our lives. Our obligation, having received this revelation, is to respond appropriately. The pattern is evident throughout the Scriptures: God, the Lord, is one; therefore, we must love him with all that we have (Deut. 6:4-5). God has demonstrated profound mercies to us; in view of these mercies, we must offer our bodies as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1).

One of the most striking examples of this rhythm of revelation and response is recorded in Isaiah 6:1-8. There, the prophet has an amazing encounter with the living God. First, God's character is revealed: God is high, lifted up, and holy, holy, holy. The prophet's response is exactly right: "Woe to me, I am ruined!" But God graciously reveals more. He is loving and merciful. This is revealed by atoning action and explanatory speech. Isaiah's response, again, is the right one: He humbly receives God's grace and believes God's word. Finally, God's work and will are revealed as the Lord himself asks, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?" Isaiah faithfully responds: "Here am I. Send me!"

As we read this account, we are reminded of Romans 12:1—"in view of God's mercy, offer your bodies as living sacrifices." Indeed, the Isaiah passage provides a wonderful example of a pattern that could, and perhaps should, mark all of our worship gatherings. First, we are reminded of God's awesome and holy character. In light of this, we are moved to humble confession. Next, we are reminded of how God has intervened on behalf of us sinners, by sending his Son to be an atoning sacrifice for us. This good news we humbly receive and believe. Finally, God charges us to be engaged in his ongoing work in this broken and defiant world. We respond by offering our lives afresh for his service.

Like other elements in our worship gatherings—preaching, sacrament [ordinances], offerings, Scripture readings, prayers, and more—our songs should aid us either in clarifying what God has revealed to us or in guiding us toward faithful response, or both. Sadly, many of our songs are deficient on both counts. They do not speak clearly of God's character, deeds, or will. Nor do they speak substantively of the response God requires of us.

We should encourage those who lead us in song to select songs of substance, and we must pray that a new generation of songwriters will rise up to compose such songs for the saints. The church must retain those songs of old that were most helpful in terms of revelation and response. In some cases, new melodies or arrangements can be employed to help younger generations access these treasures of the church. Thankfully, there have been encouraging developments in these areas of late. Perhaps a new wind of theologically sensitive songs will blow some of the chaff out of our sanctuaries for good.

from Gary A. Parrett, assistant professor of Christian education at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.
Copyright © 2005 Christianity Today.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Series on Worship, pt.2

2. The word worship, when applied to public gatherings of the saints, must not be reduced to a synonym for singing praises to God.

"For many today, especially in evangelical churches, worship is only that portion of the service that we devote to singing praises. This represents a significant and recent shift in our worship vocabulary.

"In 1985, I attended an evening service of a large church. The service began with about 20 minutes of chorus singing, accompanied by guitars, with lyrics projected on a screen. After the guitars were put down and the projector switched off, a pastor came to the podium and announced to the assembly, 'Now we will begin our worship.' Naturally, I wondered what we had been doing for the past 20 minutes. But I came to understand that in this church, at that time, worship was what happened after the guitars were put down and the projector turned off.

"Fifteen years later, I returned to the same church to speak in an evening service, with many of the same people present. The opening of the service was familiar—singers, guitars, projector, choruses of praise. But this time, when that singing had ended, a pastor stood before us and said, 'That was a wonderful time of worship. And now …' The 'And now …' was pregnant with meaning. It was clear that the definition of worship had changed.

"Almost every time I hear the word worship used by believers today, it is clear that they are referring to singing praises. Many, of course, if pushed on this matter, would confess that worship involves far more. But words matter, and our language betrays our misperceptions. When we call those who lead us in song our "worship leaders," our true convictions are revealed. It is imperative, then, that we work diligently to reform the vocabulary of worship."

-- from Gary A. Parrett, assistant professor of Christian education at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.
Copyright © 2005 Christianity Today. February 2005, Vol. 49, No. 2, Page 38

Thursday, January 24, 2008

New Series Regarding Worship

This is the first of a ten-part series of posts regarding worship from Gary Parrett of Gordon-Conwell Seminary...

1 Our heavenly Father wills that the whole
life of believers should be worship.

Jesus made clear, in John 4, that worship is not an activity limited to certain places or times. Rather, worship is the 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week, vocation of all believers. God is Spirit--unbounded by constraints of time or space—and thus his worshipers must worship him everywhere and at all times (John 4:23-24).

Furthermore, that which God requires he powerfully provides for. For with his reference to an hour that is at once both "coming" and "now here" (v. 23, ESV), Jesus presents a theme central to John's Gospel: The Holy Spirit would soon be poured upon all believers, and would permanently indwell us (see John 7:39 and 14:16-17), making us living temples of the living God.

Any discussion of worship, then, must begin with the biblical concern for worship as lifestyle, not merely as a formal gathering that features specifically "religious" actions. This is a theme consistently affirmed, in most forceful language, throughout the Bible. In passages such as Isaiah 1:10-17 and Amos 5:21-24, God actually rejects the very worship practices that he had himself commanded of his people—assemblies, sacrifices, Sabbath observances, prayers, and the like—because these actions had been severed from a more fundamental commitment to lives of justice, mercy, and humility (Mic. 6:8).

Religious actions at religious gatherings of the community were not intended to be substitutes for a life devoted to the true worship of God but, rather, were to be its celebratory overflow.

[Romans 12:1-2]

Gary A. Parrett is assistant professor of Christian education at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.
Copyright © 2005 Christianity Today.
February 2005, Vol. 49, No. 2, Page 38

A Biblical Definition of Worship

Tim Keller is pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. His thoughts on worship, presented in the book, "Worship by the Book" (edited by D.A. Carson) are some of the most Biblical and helpful I've read on this crucial topic.

Here's an excerpt: "Worship, as Carson writes, 'is ascribing all honor and worth to God precisely because he is worthy, delightfully so.' We are therefore only truly worshiping when we are serving God with our entire beings, including our hearts, which must be 'affected' by God's glory.

"The fullest definition of worship, then, is something like 'obedient action motivated by the beauty of who God is in himself." (p. 204).

What Keller writes here is related to the fact that the key Biblical words for worship have to do with serving God and submitting to him (literally, bowing down, falling prostrate, before him). Many of us seem to think of worship mainly in terms of 'the feeling or the mood that I experienced during the music' -- but that's not the heart of worship (although our 'affections' and emotions should certainly be engaged).

Keller's definition of worship is also related to the fact that in the New Testament, worship is seen to be our response to God in all of life, not just when we're gathered together for 'corporate worship.' As Paul teaches in Romans 12 our "spiritual act of worship/service" is offering all that we are to God as living sacrifices, which includes avoiding worldliness as, instead, we are transformed by the renewing of our mind/perspective. And all this happens as a response to our recognition (with mind and heart) of "the mercies of God."

Our worship will please God and will truly transform us as his people when we think of it, and experience it, along the lines of what Scripture actually teaches -- that true worship is 'obedient action [including the actions of confessing sin, praying, praising, carefully listening to the preached Word in order to live by it...] motivated by the beauty of who God is in himself.'

(Rom. 12:1-2; Matt. 4:10; Rom.1:25; 2 Cor. 3:18; Heb.12:28-29)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Martin Luther on Defending Truth

"If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the Word of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Him. Where the battle rages there the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle front besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point."

--Luther's Works. Weimar Edition. [Correspondence], vol. 3, pp. 81f.

[Titus 1:9; Jude 3f.; Acts 20:28-32]

Good blog for teens

Here's a really good weblog for teens, from a couple young guys, Alex and Brett Harris (their older brother is pastor and author, Joshua Harris): The Rebelution (1 Tim. 4:12)

Monday, January 21, 2008

Abiding in Christ (John 15:1-11)

"...abiding in Christ means allowing His Word to fill our minds, direct our wills, and transform our affections. In other words, our relationship to Christ is intimately connected to what we do with our Bibles!”

- Sinclair Ferguson, "In Christ Alone" (p. 114)

Preamble to an excellent statement on the Gospel

"The Gospel of Jesus Christ: An Evangelical Celebration"

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is news, good news: the best and most important news that any human being ever hears.

This Gospel declares the only way to know God in peace, love, and joy is through the reconciling death of Jesus Christ the risen Lord. This Gospel is the central message of the Holy Scriptures, and is the true key to understanding them.

This Gospel identifies Jesus Christ, the Messiah of Israel, as the Son of God and God the Son, the second Person of the Holy Trinity, whose incarnation, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension fulfilled the Father's saving will. His death for sins and his resurrection from the dead were promised beforehand by the prophets and attested by eyewitnesses.

In God's own time and in God's own way, Jesus Christ shall return as glorious Lord and Judge of all (1 Thess. 4:13-18; Matt. 25:31-32). He is now giving the Holy Spirit from the Father to all those who are truly his. The three Persons of the Trinity thus combine in the work of saving sinners.

This Gospel sets forth Jesus Christ as the living Savior, Master, Life, and Hope of all who put their trust in him. It tells us that the eternal destiny of all people depends on whether they are savingly related to Jesus Christ.

This Gospel is the only Gospel: there is no other; and to change its substance is to pervert and indeed destroy it. This Gospel is so simple that small children can understand it, and it is so profound that studies by the wisest theologians will never exhaust its riches....

The Bible declares that all who truly trust in Christ and his Gospel are sons and daughters of God through grace, and hence are our brothers and sisters in Christ.

All who are justified experience reconciliation with the Father, full remission of sins, transition from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light, the reality of being a new creature in Christ, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. They enjoy access to the Father with all the peace and joy that this brings.

The Gospel requires of all believers worship, which means constant praise and giving of thanks to God, submission to all that he has revealed in his written word, prayerful dependence on him, and vigilance lest his truth be even inadvertently compromised or obscured.

To share the joy and hope of this Gospel is a supreme privilege. It is also an abiding obligation, for the Great Commission of Jesus Christ still stands: proclaim the Gospel everywhere, he said, teaching, baptizing, and making disciples....

(the full statement: "The Gospel of Jesus Christ")


A recommended weblog

One of the best blogs I know of is Justin Taylor's Between Two Worlds. His recent posts have included one about remembering the impact of Martin Luther King and also an interview with a prominent pro-life author and scholar.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

John Piper on a Philosophy of Worship

What Is the Philosophy of Worship that Unites Us?
By John Piper April 1, 1994

God-centeredness: A high priority of the vertical focus of our Sunday morning service. The ultimate aim is to so experience God that he is glorified in our affections.

Expecting the powerful presence of God: We do not just direct ourselves toward him. We earnestly seek his drawing near according to the promise of James 4:8. We believe that in worship God draws near to us in power, and makes himself known and felt for our good and for the salvation of unbelievers in the midst.

Bible based and Bible saturated: The content of our singing and praying and welcoming and preaching and poetry will always conform to the truth of Scripture. The content of God's Word will be woven through all we do in worship and will be the ground of all our appeal to authority.

Head and heart: Worship that aims at kindling and carrying deep, strong, real emotions toward God, but does not manipulate people's emotions by failing to appeal to clear thinking about spiritual things based on shareable evidences outside ourselves.

Earnestness and intensity: Avoiding a trite, flippant, superficial, frivolous atmosphere, but instead setting an example of reverence and passion and wonder.

Authentic communication: The utter renunciation of all sham and deceit and hypocrisy and pretense and affectation and posturing. Not the atmosphere of artistic or oratorical performance but the atmosphere of a radically personal encounter with God’s truth.

The manifestation of God and the common good: We expect and hope and pray (according to 1 Cor. 12:7) that our focus on the manifesting of God is good for people and that therefore a spirit of love for each other is not incompatible with, but necessary to authentic worship.

Undistracting excellence: We will try to sing and play and pray and preach in such a way that people's attention will not be diverted from the substance by shoddy ministry nor by excessive finesse, elegance or refinement. Natural, undistracting excellence will let the truth and beauty of God shine through.

The mingling of historic and contemporary music: And he said to them, "Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old" (Matt. 13:52)

By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: Email: Toll Free: 1.888.346.4700.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

True Conversion: How Salvation Happens

‘What happens then, in a true conversion, is that faith comes to life in the mind as the reality of the truths about Christ (whether they have been read or heard) begin to take life and to be felt.

‘In some shape or form, these truths center on God’s holiness and love, Christ’s self-giving for us and in our place on the Cross, His triumph over sin, death and the devil, and our sense of corruption, guilt, misery and despair.

‘Then we hear the words of grace in the Gospel. Emotions may well be stirred, for although the perception of spiritual reality is not itself emotional, distress, fear, shame, and hopeful joy are at different times the result of coming to realize the truth of the Gospel.

‘Faith, beginning as this knowledge [this real understanding of the truths of the Christian faith] blossoms into assent in which the will is now engaged; assent issues into heartfelt trust and from this trust flows real repentance and the turning from sin to Christ.’

--David Wells, "Turning to God" p. 146

Biblical Worship that Transforms

"To think of God as he is, that is, as the Bible reveals him to be, the true believer cannot help but begin to worship; and worship is the single most powerful force in completing and sustaining the transformation and sanctification that is God’s great agenda for our lives....

"For real worship puts into abeyance every evil tendency in every dimension of our soul….and such worship naturally arises from thinking rightly about God on the basis of revealed truth."

-- Dallas Willard, "Renovation of the Heart" (p.107) [2 Cor.3:18; Rom.12:1-2]

Friday, January 18, 2008

The Bible in Relation to the Lordship of Christ

“The Christian principle of biblical authority means, on the one hand, that God purposes to direct the belief and behavior of his people through the revealed truth set forth in Holy Scripture; on the other hand it means that all our ideas about God should be measured, tested, and where necessary corrected and enlarged, by reference to biblical teaching…..

"Authority in Christianity belongs to God the Creator, who made us to know, love, and serve him, and his way of exercising his authority over us is by means of the truth and wisdom of his written Word….. And since the Father has now given the Son executive authority to rule the cosmos on his behalf (Matt.28:18), Scripture now functions precisely as the instrument of Christ’s lordship over his followers…." [Matt.28:18ff.; 2 Tim.3:16-17]

-- J.I. Packer "Concise Theology" (p.16)

from Jim Eliot

Hasten, hasten, Glory of Heaven,
Take Thy crown,
Subdue Thy Kingdom,
Enthrall Thy creatures.

-- quoted in "Through Gates of Splendor"

Authentic Worship

From a good book edited by D.A. Carson:

"We worship our Creator-God precisely because he is worthy, delightfully so. What ought to make worship delightful to us is not, in the first instance, its novelty or aesthetic beauty [or its technical sophistication], but its object: God himself is delightfully wonderful, and we learn to delight in him.

"In an age increasingly suspicious of (linear) thought, there is much more respect for the 'feeling' of things -- whether a film or a church service. It is disturbingly easy to plot surveys of people, especially young people, drifting from a church with excellent preaching and teaching to one with excellent music because, it is alleged, there is 'better worship' there. But we need to think carefully about this matter.... Although there are things that can be done to enhance corporate worship, there is a profound sense in which excellent worship cannot be attained merely by pursuing excellent worship.

"In the same way that, according to Jesus, you cannot find yourself until you lose yourself, so also you cannot find excellent worship until you stop trying to find excellent worship and pursue God himself.

"Despite the protestations, one sometimes wonders if we are beginning to worship worship rather than worship God." ("Worship by the Book" pp.30-31)

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Why another weblog?

My goal for this weblog is to present thoughts, perspectives and resources that will help the church live out its allegiance to Jesus Christ by learning from and living "by every word that comes from the mouth of God." (Deut.8:3; Matt.4:4)