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Posts Tagged ‘Worship’

Ours is quite the secular age. The mention of God has been all but removed from the public square. One who truly believes in the God revealed in the Christian Scriptures and has a vibrant faith in him is looked upon as, at best, an odd duck in politics and academia.

While that makes for a sad state of affairs, what is even sadder are those who ar associated with the Christian faith who live as though God does not exist. Why is this? Is it not because they do not really fear God, regardless their protestations to the contrary?

The Bible speaks much about the fear of the Lord. Psalm 111:10 tells us that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!” Interesting—“all those who practice it have a good understanding.” Proverbs 1:7 puts the matter more negatively: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. “ We find in Acts 9:31 that “the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.” The fear of the Lord had an impact upon the numerical growth of the church. Perhaps the reason was that the fear of the Lord provoked believers to have compassion for the lost: “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others” (2 Corinthians 5:11).

So what is the fear of the Lord? The Protestant reformer Martin Luther explained it this way, “To knowledge belongs the fear of the Lord, so that, possessing knowledge, a man may fear to offend God lest he be puffed up. Thus the Christian man is fully equipped and a fit vessel of the Lord if he has wisdom, that is, purity of teaching, if he has understanding, that is, if he guards that doctrine pure and unimpaired, if he has counsel and if victory over temptation follows, if he leads an upright life with his brothers and uses all things to advantage and not as a stumbling block in the fear of the Lord. But where the fear of the Lord has been absent, the rest is easily perverted. This is a picture and description of Christ’s kingdom. These are his weapons. In this way that kingdom is extended and the twigs bear fruit” [Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 16: Lectures on Isaiah: Chapters 1-39, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 16 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 120].

To fear God is not to live afraid of God. Rather, as Luther wrote, it is to be afraid of offending God. It is to recognize that God matters. A lack of fear of the Lord reveals that God does not matter to that person.

To the person who fears God, everything in life is seen through the lens that God matters. What we believe, what we speak, what we learn, how we interact with others, how we view scriptural commandments—all these things matter, and they matter deeply.

If a person is sporadic in worship attendance, that person does not fear God. God does not really matter. To be sure, a hypocrite can be in church meetings every time the door is open and still not fear God. Not attending faithfully, however, is a sign that one does not truly fear God. The Bible exhorts us, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24–25).

It is the proud person whose life neglects God. He may claim that he loves God, but he puts off being baptized, attends worship infrequently, and gives begrudgingly, if at all, to the Lord’s work. She may claim to follow Christ but she sporadically reads the Scriptures, spends little time communing with God in prayer, and rarely, if ever, utters anything of a spiritual nature.

Life is short, and our lives end all too soon. We all will stand before a holy God. Who is the wise person? Is it not the one who fears the Lord, who recognizes that God matters?

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Spurgeon on music in worship

If you want to venture into contentious and acrimonious debates, bring up music in worship. The past three or four decades have witnessed much heat and, too often, little light when it comes to the “worship wars.” Contemporary versus traditional, choruses versus hymns, types of musical instruments allowed or none at all, praise bands or choirs—these are among the disagreements concerning music during corporate worship.

A good deal of the discussion centers upon the reason for having music during the church’s corporate worship. Those who favor contemporary music deem that it better connects with the culture. They see it as an evangelistic tool. And, frankly, I think a lot of churches have adopted praise teams with their contemporary music because of the “cool” factor.

If we allow Scripture to guide us, we will be hard pressed to justify music during worship as an evangelistic tool. Worship, by its very definition, is that which is done by Christians. The purpose of the church’s gathering is not to evangelize unbelievers. The purpose is to worship God. And being attractive to the world should be the least of our concerns.

Unbelievers do attend worship services of local churches, but Paul indicated that such attenders comprised a small minority (1 Corinthians 14:23). Some churches which are so enthralled with contemporary music would do well to understand that the idea is not new and has been opposed by godly leaders in the past. Charles Spurgeon, writing during the latter-half to the nineteenth century, commented: “I hardly like to hear the high praises of God sung to the tune of a comic song or of a dance. There is a certain congruity about things that must be observed, and some good music may have associated with it such queer ideas that we had better let it alone till those associations have died out, lest, while we are uttering holy words, some people may be reminded by the tune of unholy things.”

Because worship is a corporate exercise, the highest form of singing is congregational. Choirs can be edifying, and I appreciate the extraordinary time and effort which Claire and our choir give toward worship, but choirs are not essential. (Please don’t stone me!) Congregational singing, though, is essential. Charles Spurgeon put it this way: “I am afraid that where organs, choirs, and singing men and women are left to do the praise of the congregation, men’s minds are more occupied with the due performance of the music than with the Lord, who alone is to be praised. God’s house is meant to be sacred unto himself, but too often it is made an opera house, and Christians form an audience, not an adoring assembly. We come not together to amuse ourselves, to display our powers of melody, or our aptness in creating harmony. We come to pay our adoration at the footstool of the great King, to whom alone be glory forever and ever.”

I found it interesting, while listening to some sermons from a particularly large evangelical church in Cardiff, Wales, that the pastor or whoever may be preaching simply announced the hymn, the organ began playing, and the congregation sang. An American friend who was converted to Christ at that church told me the congregational singing was an incredible thing to behold. I wonder at times whether we have subconsciously relegated singing to a few talented folks. Singing is the church’s joy. Spurgeon put it this way: “Do we sing as much as the birds do? Yet what have birds to sing about, compared with us? Do we sing as much as the angels do? Yet they were never redeemed by the blood of Christ. Birds of the air, shall you excel me? Angels, shall you exceed me? You have done so, but I intend to emulate you, and day by day, and night by night, pour forth my soul in sacred song.”

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16).

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The words in the title are lifted from a line in D. A. Carson’s Worship by the Book and provoked some thoughts pertaining to how we view worship.

We mortals are quite adept at finding ways to admire ourselves even when we appear to be admiring something else. Literary societies doubtlessly have many members who are less enthralled with good books than they are enthralled with others’ perceiving them as being enthralled with good books. They like the idea of fine books and may have even read some of them, but they like even better the esteem others place upon them for liking fine books. As others have pointed out, these folk admire themselves for admiring the sunset.

We can do the same thing in our churches, especially our churches which are associated with Reformed theology. Other churches are just seeking fun and entertainment and more decisions to gain more members to build larger and finer buildings in order to have even greater fun and entertainment—all in the name of worship and the glory of God, but we see through such things. We are more noble, more God-centered, more concerned about truth. We are not like all those others.

We find at least a couple of problems here. First, we have managed to make ourselves superior to others. Those poor, deluded folks go to church because of family or tradition or earning God’s favor or wanting to appear religious or get a spiritual high or whatever, but we . . . . Jesus illustrated such a spirit with these words: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get’” (Luke 18:10-12).

Even as we acknowledge the reality of grace, that only by God’s grace do we see what we see and understand what we understand, we manage to elevate ourselves to a position of superiority. “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18) should serve as a constant warning to us.

A second problem with the attitude of putting ourselves above others is that we are guilty of admiring ourselves admire God instead of admiring and pursuing God. We admire ourselves for admiring truth instead of actually admiring and pursuing truth. We admire ourselves for understanding something of the centrality of God in worship instead of actually and intentionally worshiping God. We admire ourselves not succumbing to the entertainment-driven mindset of our day instead of focusing upon God in every hymn we sing, in every prayer we pray, in every creed we recite, and in every sermon we hear.

We recognize that worship is not about us. It’s about God. We know that truth is not about us. It’s about God. We know this and express this, and yet the focus manages to drift back to us. We admire ourselves for admiring God and find ourselves not really admiring God at all. With the apostle Paul we find ourselves doing what we hate and failing to do what we ought. His words become ours:  “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24).

What to do? There are probably more than these, but four suggestions come to mind. First, we have to recognize that admiring ourselves for admiring even the most noble pursuit, the pursuit of God, is sin. We must confess our sin to God for elevating ourselves above others, and we must repent and seek his forgiveness.

Second, we must be conscious of our weakness and call upon God to aid us. We must be aware of our tendency to exalt self, and we must rebuke ourselves whenever we find our gaze shifting from the Almighty.

Third, we must keep the truth of grace ever before us. Indeed, not only are we capable of following the lead of the world, we have actually done it: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:1-3). Whoever we are and whatever we believe result solely from the grace of God. “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7).

Fourth, we must be conscious of our fleshly ability to substitute ourselves for God, to usurp his place, and we must consciously and intentionally focus upon him. Keeping our gaze upon him reveals his beauty and his holiness and his matchless glory. May God alone be the desire of our hearts.

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A blue Christmas?

Christmas seems to be a particularly depressing time for many people. Statistics reveal increased numbers of suicides and attempted suicide when compared to other times of the year. Mental health professionals report an increase in cases of depression.

Many reasons for increased depression are offered. Folks get overwhelmed with trying to find the “perfect” Christmas gift. All the festivities can crowd needed rest out of one’s calendar. Expecting one’s Christmas season to match a Hallmark movie doubtlessly produces a blue Christmas for many. Gatherings that force folks to be around others they dislike can be a downer.

Perhaps more persons need to feel blue at Christmas, though not for any of the reasons often offered. The thrice-holy Christ entered the world. Juxtaposed against his holiness, any human should be filled with dread and shame, a state of the darkest blue.

In Isaiah 6 we find the prophet in the presence of the Almighty. Confronted with perfect holiness, Isaiah shrinks, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (v. 5). Isaiah saw himself and his people as they really were: wicked and evil. “For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45) correlates what a person says with what a person is. That is not a comforting thought.

One might ask, “Well, that’s all well and good, but we’re talking about Christmas. What does Christmas have to do with Isaiah’s experience with the holy God?” The apostle John records this account in his gospel: “Though he [Jesus] had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: ‘Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?’ Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said, ‘He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them.’ Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him” (John 12:37–41, ESV; emphasis added).

Isaiah saw Christ in his glorious holiness and saw himself as wicked and unworthy. Somehow, that’s a reality we need to grasp during the Christmas season. We are not celebrating the miracle of a birth, though the Virgin Birth was certainly that. We are not celebrating the innocence of a little child, though this Child is the only one who has ever been born as innocent after Adam’s fall. Too much of Christmas in our culture borders on sappy emotionalism, and a lot of it is thoroughly baptized in sappiness. Even the “Put Christ Back into Christmas” campaigns miss the mark, because most people would be aghast at who Christ really is. Perhaps beside manger scenes should be a depiction of Revelation 19:11-15: “Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.”

Seeing Christ as Scripture depicts him should drive us to the cross, for there “he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21, ESV). Seeing Christ in his holiness reveals us in our sinfulness and lawlessness. By his grace, we loathe our sin, repent of it, and embrace his atonement for us. And, yes, we celebrate Christmas, but for no sentimental reason. We celebrate because our kind, benevolent, gracious, holy Savior God has satisfied divine justice due our sin and has clothed us in his righteousness.

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The Holiness of God by R. C. Sproul is ChristianAudio’s free download for March. You can find it here. Download, listen, and be transformed.

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In our entertainment-driven “worship experiences,” the life of William Cowper (1731-1800) points us to a radically different, and dare I say, more biblical understanding of the gravity of our coming before God on the Lord’s Day. Suffering acutely from prolonged bouts of depression, Cowper understood his own unworthiness to enter God’s presence. In the conclusion to his The Hidden Smile of God: The Fruit of Affliction in the Lives of John Bunyan, William Cowper, and David Brainerd, John Piper makes a timely observation:

The fruit of William Cowper’s affliction is a call to free ourselves from trite and chipper worship. If the Christian life has become the path of ease and fun in the modern West, then corporate worship is the place of increasing entertainment. The problem is not a battle between contemporary worship music and hymns; the problem is that there aren’t enough martyrs during the week. If no soldiers are perishing, what you want on Sunday is Bob Hope and some pretty girls, not the army chaplain and a surgeon.

Cowper was sick. But in his sickness he saw things that we so desperately need to see. He saw hell. And sometimes he saw heaven. He knew terror. And sometimes he knew ecstasy. When I stand to welcome the people to worship on Sunday morning, I know that there are William Cowpers in the congregation. There are spouses who can barely talk. There are sullen teenagers living double lives at home and school. There are widows who still feel the amputation of a fifty-year partner. There are single people who have not been hugged for twenty years. There are men in the prime of their lives with cancer.There are moms who have carried two tiny caskets. There are soldiers of the cross who have risked all for Jesus and bear the scars. There are tired and discouraged and lonely strugglers. Shall we come to them with a joke?

They can read the comics everyday. What they need from me is not more bouncy, frisky smiles and stories. What they need is a kind of joyful earnestness that makes the broken heart feel hopeful and helps the ones who are drunk with trifles sober up for greater joys (167).

We need to be pointed to the thrice-holy God who is reconciled to believing sinners through the sacrificial death of the Son of God. We need to remember that, left to ourselves, we deserve an eternal hell for having violated this Sovereign’s demands. We need to enter his presence reverently, worship soberly, and leave aware of his blessing because we are reminded that Christ suffered and died for rebels such as we are. And yes, perhaps we need a little suffering during the week for the cause of Christ. A touch of Cowper’s gravity would do us good.

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November’s free audio download from Christian Audio is Desiring God by John Piper. In a cultural Christianity that too often sees God as a means to an end, we need to understand that God is the end, and in him alone is true joy.

Insert NOV2009 into the coupon code in order to receive the book free. Enjoy!

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